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It starts with a breakup. A young woman named Katie (Ella Rae Peck) sits in a coffee shop across from James (Shiloh Fernandez), who has arrived late. There is an expectancy in her eyes, but it’s quickly dimmed when the unseen James details in tepid manners how they should end their relationship. He claims it’s not her fault, that she is perfect but not what he is looking for, which he says is something very specific. She waits him out and then demands he let her go like a man. So he does.
Thus begins a string of encounters for James as he searches for intimacy, meaning, affection, and sex, all with women who have profound impact. Some of these woman are just his friends, some are colleagues, some are random, but all are authentic. He’s not a hurtful man, never trying to be the bad guy, but he’s in a kind of limbo about what he wants and needs. These woman are complex and inviting in ways that inspire and excite and confuse James, but they influence and alter him in affecting ways.
Written and directed by Chadd Harbold, Long Nights Short Mornings isn’t a story about a self-obsessed playboy à la Alfie, but rather a man trending water too far from shore who finds momentary comfort and chaos in the company of these creative, alluring, intelligent, decisive women, most of whom offer a challenge, each different from the other, some more so than others. Yet Harbold is careful not let them become expectations. James has great passion for them, sometimes immediate, sometimes more than he knows, but all genuine, even when they end in bad ways.
It’s tempting to find commonality in these women, something that connects them, something James sees in them that feels familiar or defining, and while each are remarkably different in their appearance, possessions, motivations, needs and wants, they do share something that resonants. They move James to act. Each encounter is a revelation of sorts, a trigger that sees James face something about himself he might not always be ready for, and more importantly, what he realizes he is to each of the women.
The film is divided into chapters, named after each woman he encounters. There is Monica (Paten Hughes), an attractive girl he meets in a club after breaking up with Katie, and with whom he nearly has a one-night stand, though a locked door stops them. There is Sarah (Layla Khosh) and Natalie (Christine Evangelista), two women who understand James more than he knows himself, and have allowed that to be both good and bad. There’s Anna (Cassandra Freeman), a somewhat well-known actress with her own identity issues who is blunt and almost hurtful. And there is Lily (Stella Maeve), a girl James—like many of the women he is involved with—thinks needs him far more than they do, and who, in a devastating moment, pointedly asks what do they have?
These are just some of the women in Long Nights Short Mornings who live up to the title’s promise as James beds a few girls, talks to others, fights with some, and otherwise ends his evenings on his own (look for Natalia Dyer of Stranger Things in a small but critical part as well). It is a reflective experience for James, who doesn’t always make the right choices of course, swayed by his lusts rather than his conscience. This is where Rapunzel (Addison Timlin) comes in, a girl whose real name he doesn’t know but is the standby on his phone when the emptiness is too much. Throughout the film her presence is teased, and when we do finally meet her, what James does is exactly right, a man awoken by the deeply human women in his life.
Long Nights Short Mornings is a journey of sorts that might feel familiar of course, its story and themes well tread upon by others, and yet there is an honesty to it all that keeps it compelling. It is a humorless film, as James is a serious man and the women he encounters genuinely motivated by themselves, not him, but it’s never so down as to be disheartening. While it is lengthy, and there is a certain planned detachment about James that sometimes begs questions, it is nonetheless beautifully photographed and engaging, with a sensuous intimacy about it that is raw and a little unnerving. Available now on VOD, this is a solid pick.
Movie description: Long Nights Short Mornings is a 2017 drama about a man in New York City and the impact of his numerous fragmented relationships.
Director(s): Chadd Harbold
Actor(s): Shiloh Fernandez, Ella Rae Peck, Paten Hughes