Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Safe Spaces

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.

Safe Spaces
Directed by Daniel Schechter
Spotlight Narrative

The notion of political correctness has evolved over time, to the point that there are now reactionary groups that believe things have gone too far and no action or statement is safe from potential condemnation for not making every possible audience feel comfortable. Even those with the best of intentions may manage to offend another person or people, and in those circumstances, how they respond to accusations of or confrontation about a sentiment perceived as unacceptable serves as the best way to resolve an unfortunate situation. Not everyone wants to apologize for something they don’t believe was wrong, which often leads to the gradual worsening of an initially fixable circumstance.

Josh (Justin Long) is an adjunct professor who enjoys a familiar relationship with his students, and inadvertently pushes too hard to draw out true inspiration during one class. Informed that his behavior has triggered a student and incited others to boycott his classes, Josh seeks to defend himself rather than to admit fault. Also serving as a troubling force is the diminishing health of his grandmother (Lynn Cohen), with whom he shares a close bond, and her impending death results in Josh spending extended time with his sister (Kate Berlant) as they navigate their connections to their divorced parents (Fran Drescher and Richard Schiff).

This film’s first scene serves as a subtle jumping-off point for the fracturing of Josh’s life, as a dialogue he believes he can explain threatens to derail his career. The fact that he champions himself as a defender of liberal notions only makes his response all the more regrettable, since he dismisses any notion of improper conduct and tries far too hard to correct course by saying more. His interactions with his sarcastic sister, who has her own ideas of counterculturalism, the parents who express entirely different approaches to family, and the grandmother who has meant so much to him help present a fascinating, entertaining, and enlightening snapshot of Josh’s life.

Long often plays comic roles and usually serves as a straight man of sorts, including in the lackluster Tribeca entry from a few years ago, “Literally, Right Before Aaron.” Here, he demonstrates great comedic timing and dramatic skill, crafting an endearing if simultaneously overzealous character in Josh. Berlant is funny, and Drescher and Schiff contribute effectively and appropriately to a strong ensemble. This film doesn’t pretend to know how people should behave and handle every issue that arises, but this is an equally enjoyable and thought-provoking look at what happens when two perceptions of the same event truly don’t match up.


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