“You’re never going to see me again”
The premise behind Sean Meehan‘s latest short is fascinating with its titular business Total Performance providing a service that supplies actors who spar with customers seeking a dress rehearsal for whatever difficult conversation they’ve yet to work themselves up to starting. We meet a distraught husband in need of a stand-in for his cheating wife so he can air the frustration he hasn’t been able to direct at her, a gentleman working through the crisis of conscience of having to fire his best friend from the CFO position of his company, and a young man unsure about his long-term relationship and whether the time has come to part ways. These are wild card situations where a little preparation can help. Enter Cori Sweeney (Tory Berner).
There’s a great line from Cori’s date Tim (Steven Conroy) after she’s finished describing her line of work. He asks if she can turn it off. When her client is highly emotional and really sparking a physically and psychologically draining verbal war, how does it affect her? She’d like to believe it doesn’t, admitting how some days take longer than others to re-center while shrugging off the risk of any lingering damage to her personal life. Meehan seeks to test the veracity of this position by ensuring Cori bring the job home by making her personal life the venue for the latest house call on her calendar. Rules like not giving advice to the customer in order to keep distance prove meaningless once reality sneaks into the equation.
Meehan does well masking where he’s taking the journey by crosscutting past and present for expositional purposes and mystery as well as leaving phone calls one-sided to keep us guessing. Is the opening with Cori and Bruce (Paul Locke) arguing real or an anecdotal example of what she’s entertaining Tim with at dinner? Our expectations are toyed with by a meticulously constructed plot structure able to invest us from the get-go once certain assumptions about truth are upended. We watch as Cori’s confidence—surely bolstered by the daily experiences had opposite strangers harboring heavy drama who feel comforted by her interactions—shatters once life takes over artifice. What happens when objectivity disappears and the words she uses steers the outcome to her own benefit/injury?
Questions of morality enter as she takes a hard look in the mirror. To be on the receiving end of so much bile and walk away with a smile—to know so many problems she doesn’t have—is to walk around with a false sense of knowing. To experience all these ordeals as practice for a career in acting is to bypass spontaneity and begin cataloging responses and dialogue to better traverse each one. It’s almost as though Cori has gotten so good at giving the client what they need that she’s literally forgotten about herself. This realization is sobering and Meehan pulls no punches showing it. So entrenched in her role, Cori can’t escape being the one who’s dumped, fired, and rejected in real life too.