“She is really good at this job!”
There’s nothing generic about Linda LeThorn & the Musicbox, Meg Skaff‘s quirky psychological study delving into the mind of a damaged young woman who left her aunt behind to endure a fatal disease alone despite promising to remain by her side. Linda (Aundrea Fares) was obviously affected by her decision, a flashback showing the girl bright and clear with sassiness to complement her keen business sense. Today, however, sees her defeated, slack-jawed, and depressed. She continues her once booming pet-sitting responsibilities, but the infectious energy is absent. No matter how much life Linda’s Aunt Lucinda (Susan Kirby) sucked away with an abrasive personality, the guilt of abandoning her proves worse. So when the deceased woman’s property arrives at her niece’s door, that domineeringly suffocating demeanor comes too.
Yes, the mirrored musicbox of the title is not only a final object to remind Linda of her aunt, it’s also a vessel to ensure she never forgets her actions. We hear Lucinda’s voice yelling demands like always, her niece complying without pause and in fact shirking her already tenuous responsibilities in the aftermath. She forgets about her client Mr. Purple Green (Timothy J. Cox) and neglects her own cat for days. All she can do instead is remember Lucinda and act as though in a trance to make those memories a reality. Linda organizes a “Skin Picking Club” to find women with similar pustules as her aunt to pop and recall the satisfaction. Lucinda is reclaiming the time she lost despite being six feet underground.
It’s funny farce wrapped in a creepily surrealistic filter that turns its lead into a catatonic sleepwalker retreating inside herself as she fails everyone who relies upon her. It’s sad too because she cannot help herself, the voice of Lucinda constantly beckoning her back no matter what she does to the musicbox or who she begins to see as a burgeoning relationship with fellow picker Geraldine (Ashley Peoples) is forever kept at arm’s length. The surrounding characters ham it up, their broad performances made even more so when juxtaposed with Fares’ never-wavering ambivalence. There’s crazy yet deadpan dancing, impromptu destruction of property, and a continuous string of situations ran from. She isn’t afraid, though, she simply cannot stop. This compulsion to leave becomes her personal Hell.
The film will surely not be to everyone’s tastes with its zany proclivities and oddball characters inside a similarly hyper-real world just left of center, but it can’t help intrigue even its detractors. I’m not even sure I really like the film or understand all the ins and outs of what’s happening during its obviously personal story (dedicated to Skaff’s Great Aunt), but I enjoyed the journey. I had fun getting grossed out and scratching my head. I love that Skaff doesn’t try to find a place of normalcy for Linda either, her eccentricity shining for better or worse. In the end the short is about love and familial responsibility. Whether Linda was justified in her actions is inconsequential because it’s hard to forgive oneself. Some never can.