“Dad, can we talk about Mom?”
Some short films suffer due to their brevity and Tillman is one of them. A fifteen-minute piece depicting a sad-sack car dealership owner named Richard Tillman (Wayne Joseph), the film creates a mood very different from what its synopsis hopes to cultivate. Explained as a portrayal of a father-of-three’s seemingly idyllic life soon unraveling into the depressive reality he’s kept hidden beneath the surface, it’s never shown to possess anything other than ambivalence. Richard is obviously unhappy from frame one and our entry into his home and workplace does nothing to refute this truth.
Directed by Antonio Padovan off a script from Josh Batista, our opening glimpse inside his life is the epitome of how bad it’s become. Staring into the distance of an empty sales floor without an appointment to his name, attractive secretary Missy’s (Lauren Pappas) overtly flirtatious “Hello” is literally the sole bright spot of his morning. From here he plays Tetris on his computer and sighs at the acknowledgement no cars have been sold all month. He than goes home to a silent daughter glued to her phone (Elizabeth McIntire’s April), an annoyingly precocious son (Erik Daughterman’s Connor), and an alcoholic wife (Bonn Kovacs’ Deborah). I wouldn’t have been surprised if the next scene saw him putting a gun in his mouth.
Only when eldest son Richie (Timothy Hoobler) appears does any semblance of plot begin. Richard’s genuine curiosity about why his boy has arrived gives pause in anticipation of finding out until the question is dropped as quickly as it’s introduced. Nowhere in the film does it explicitly say or even infer upon Richie having been in a drug rehabilitation center and learning this fact from the synopsis does nothing to add to what’s onscreen. Instead we simply wait and see if the son is up to the task of selling cars for his father and whether or not Richard gives his wife divorce papers or sleeps with Missy first. Honestly, when the credits rolled I still wasn’t sure if any of those actions took place.
It seems like Padovan and Batista are trying to cultivate an air of mystery while showing just enough information so audiences can comprehend their message. Unfortunately, they have stripped away so much detail that the final piece has turned out incomprehensible. Little scenes like Connor fixing his Dad’s stew with a sprinkle of herbs/spices from the cupboard are strangely weird while those like Deborah waking for dinner hours too late hope to provide a basis for the revelation Richard wants to escape. The problem is that Richard never looks like he ever wanted to stay. Besides Missy there isn’t one thing during his daily routine worth using the muscles necessary to smile.
Perhaps I’m missing the point of what’s really happening or simply cannot read between the lines, but Tillman sadly doesn’t work for me. Whether the amateurish acting—only Hoobler looks as though he isn’t remembering lines in his head where the leads are concerned; the hamfisted attempts to smoothly transition scenes; or the fact it ends with an undeserving glint of hope, I kept waiting to be let in on the joke. Alas, it was not to be with its mundane look into a suburban family existing where fantasies of outlandish murder suicide scenarios played out in my head. Without the synopsis I’d have been lost and with it I’m simply disappointed.
Watch it for yourself on YouTube: Tillman.