Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds' Only, the story of a 12-hour romance between two tweens who meet at a rural Canadian motel, was my surprise of the festival; a small, independently made feature that is full of heart. This is a sweet, modest movie, and its success is built upon the performances of its two young leads, Jacob Switzer, who plays the lonely, vibrant Daniel and Elena Hudgins Lyle as Vera, a daughter negotiating her parents' rapidly failing marriage and her own hopeful, poetic outlook on life. Daniel and Vera are both at the age where childhood experiences have not fully prepared them for the onrushing emotions and situations of adulthood, when new feelings of attraction and responsibility are tempered by confusion and an inability to articulate the depth of just what it is happening inside of them. It's a difficult time to be sure, but for these lonely souls, strength comes from finding hope in a kindred spirit, in realizing that there is someone else in the world who understands, who cares.
Daniel spends his lonely days helping his parents manage the family motel. He's not the most dedicated of employees (he sleeps in empty rooms, helps strip the bedding, tends to make a mess of things), but he is respectful enough of his parents' wishes to want to do the right thing. After witnessing a violent argument between Vera's parents, he follows the girl into the motel pool and the two soon become friends. Since they're both looking to get away from the tedium of the adult world, Daniel offers to show Vera around the area. It's a lovely but empty place; the local kids hang out among the pumps at the local gas station, unpopulated roads seem to dead end into gray skies, snow falls slowly among the trees, and the forest holds a few secrets that demand exploration. Against the natural beauty of the Canadian winter, things warm up slowly between Daniel and Vera as each tests the waters of friendship with questions and answers, proclamations and personal secrets revealed. As Vera's deadline to leave town approaches, emotions seem to intensify until, the engine running, Vera and Daniel share a first kiss and we the knowledge that this encounter will never be repeated.
Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds' Only
Veninger and Reynolds are wise enough to stay out of the way of these two performances, both of which are absolutely honest and alive with small moments of pure authenticity; a bad joke here, a look of embarrassment there, Switzer and Hudgins Lyle are allowed to simply be teenagers and they shine despite the responsibility of carrying the entire film on their young shoulders. Both actors are at ease with the material, and the film never feels improvised nor stilted; This is a movie that is in perfect harmony with its performers who are, in turn, absolutely certain of the material. There are some excellent choices made, including what must be the first scene ever cut with a score of dueling iPod headphones. The use of the iPod is great, especially in the scenes when the two teens' music blends together in our ears, the cacophony of clashing songs underscoring their confused emotions but also foreshadowing the young couple's eventual union in a single kiss.
The film is by no means perfect (Veninger and Reynolds provide comic relief as the adult parents of both children to mixed effect), but it gets so many things right and does so without a single superfluous shot or gesture that you can't help but fall in love with the movie, with these characters. We've all felt the blush of first love, but how many of us remember the vulnerability of that moment? Who could articulate that feeling today, that rush of blood to your cheeks, the conflict between fear of the unknown and desire? As Daniel and Vera draw closer together, they navigate each step of the way, each emotion, with clarity, warmth, humor and an emotional realism that is a delight to watch. I hope programmers in America take the time to catch up with this little gem of a movie and that Only finds its way to audiences everywhere.