“Don’t be late”
For a student film, Maggie Kaszuba‘s Inspired is an effective cinematic effort. Depicting the life of a teenage girl dealing with ambivalence at home and tough love at school, the short has a wealth of earned emotion once relationships flesh out and motivation is revealed. Samantha Higgins (Tyler Kipp) is an underachiever not by choice, but circumstance. She’s depressed, sleepwalking through a tired existence that Coach Stafford (Ariane M. Reinhart) makes worse via a refusal to listen to the real causes of her basketball player’s struggles. Only when Samantha is able to let the life lessons being sent her way inside, embracing the fun away from home’s malaise, can she begin figuring out what she wants from the sport, high school, and the future. It absolutely delivers inspiration.
I do wonder if it would benefit from a more substantial run-time, however, as its progressions feel rushed. We go from Samantha’s fatigue and frustration straight to rock bottom with an inevitable panic attack-induced hospital stay. This transition works because we can see it boiling over, the girl’s troubles mounting exponentially as she continues to ruin her chances of playing the big game with tardiness and an anger-fueled lack of effort. It’s her turnaround that gives me pause because it’s allowed half the time as the descent. I get the reasons why considering her lift in spirits is the endgame rather than dramatic center—the catalyst being a tragic revelation of our respective mortalities—but the speed at which everything moves does a disservice to its emotional resonance.
It’s as though a switch is flipped and Samantha’s understanding of her situation finds focus instantaneously. I get why this process must be condensed for the purposes of a film, but that doesn’t mean it works effectively in practice. The conclusion comes in the form of a heart-felt montage cutting between a vigil and basketball game that a glimpse at Stafford’s line-up has us believing very little time passed. We watch her working on this piece of paper before all of the following: Sam’s attack, a newfound camaraderie with teammates, and the game itself being postponed. So if the game we see is that same game, Sam’s evolution is impossibly brief and borderline unhealthy. But I’m probably reading way too far into a sweetly powerful look at adolescence.
In the end Inspired reveals itself to be a personal piece for Kaszuba honoring someone who we infer had the same impact on her life as Stafford does on Samantha’s. The accelerated pacing aside, the film is to be commended with a surprisingly high production value spanning multiple locations, action shots, and reliable performances. Some moments can’t stop themselves from being excessively maudlin in their melodrama, but the message never gets muddled. We can all appreciate what it means to have a teacher or coach take an interest in our wellbeing beyond scoreboards or grades—to be acknowledged at a time when we felt invisible. Kaszuba captures that essence, her use of death as a tool ultimately proving more authentic than it does manipulative.