There are many theories about the missing 18 1/2 minutes of Richard Nixon’s White House recordings. At a time of heightened controversy –thanks to Watergate and the ensuing investigations– the gap in recordings created a convenient slot into which a persons conspiracy theory of choice might fit.
Dan Mirvish’s new film 18 1/2 explores a quaint, yet zany, moment of alternate history where the tape itself was taped and a young transcriptionist secrets it away from the White House to listen to it with a journalist. Hilarity ensues when they check into a small town motel to do just that.
Connie, the transcriptionist (Willa Fitzgerald) and Paul, the journalist (John Magaro), immediately struggle with handling the tape and who should have possession of it, but that all becomes moot when they realize they don’t have a tape player. They have to ask the rest of the characters in the motel, including Jack, the one-eyed proprietor (Richard Kind), a group of anti-war hippies led by Barry (Sullivan Jones), and Samuel and Lena (Vondie Curtis-Hall and Catherine Curtin), an amorous older couple.
I won’t spoil where the story goes, but each character is well-drawn and well-acted, with Kind and Curtis-Hall stealing nearly every scene they are in. Such is the danger of casting excellent character actors, but Fitzgerald and Magaro hold their own as well, and this film should serve to further each of their indie cred.
The story itself is a strange –but charming– fusion of genres, presenting itself at first as a political thriller but morphing into a slightly wacky romantic comedy in the middle before becoming something else entirely by the end. It’s impressive how well these shifts in tone are handled, despite the pacing being a little inconsistent. Still, Daniel Moya’s script is sharply written, and almost everything set up in the first act pays off in the third in some satisfying way.
18 1/2 isn’t revolutionary, but it is clever and fun, and that makes it worth your time.
18 1/2 played as part of the 2021 Whistler Film Festival and is headed to a wide release later this year.
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