You have to fight.
Addiction is a tough topic to do justice with in a short film. I don’t mean that as a commentary on duration, but honesty. The last thing you want to do is have a piece meant to conjure introspection and drama feel like a PSA commissioned by the same companies that supply the drug due to court-ordered awareness laws. So you have to find a balance between the subject matter and the emotionality of the issue. You have to find a way to let characters breathe as three-dimensional people worthy of our empathy despite only having ten minutes to do so. They cannot be stereotypes or caricature and they cannot have all the answers. Delicacy is necessary rather than theatrics.
It’s therefore nice to see a film like Jeremiah Kipp‘s How Do You Type a Broken Heart possess nuance. Screenwriter Susannah Nolan has crafted a story that could very well be ripped from her own life whether she was the alcoholic struggling to survive the night (Holly Curran‘s Justine) or the alcoholic long-since on the other side who still combats the dark urge to let go (Emily Donahoe‘s Becky). And that’s the point. Anyone who’s been in a situation such as the one depicted—calling a sponsor to be reminded that your health and life matter—knows these two roles aren’t mutually exclusive. No addict is ever cured and sometimes the only reason you’re alive to tell someone this truth is due to pure luck.
Heroes aren’t perfect—they’re often deeply flawed. What makes them brave and courageous is the strength to not give in. I don’t say “never” intentionally because that would imply perfection. You may give in every single time but one, yet that one instance might save someone’s life. That’s why we need Becky’s husband (Kenneth De Abrew‘s Rick) to air his frustrations about someone calling their house in the middle of the night. It’s not to portray his anger or to introduce an argument that he’s justified in being angry. He’s present so we can watch Becky pause her own life in order to focus on another’s. He’s there to remind us what can be achieved with survival as well as what can be lost.
That’s a powerful message and it’s accessible through Donahoe and Curran’s memorable performances. It’s also there in the text—for better or worse. There are moments where this short can’t help itself from feeling like a PSA meant for high schools, but Kipp’s aesthetic and production value ensure the whole does not. Nolan’s words never fall into cliché because we can see the pain they inflict on both actors’ faces. Whether it’s Becky remembering what she endured to be the sober woman with a family on the phone or Justine understanding her rough night isn’t a unique experience and how the road she’s teetering on can only get rougher, we’re given a glimpse at a nightmare forever threatening to consume its victim alive.