It’s no wonder that “In Reality,” a magical-realistic romantic comedy that turns the genre it is celebrating on its head, walked away from the Port Townsend Film Festival with the Best Narrative Feature. Its inherently independent spirit, coupled with an endearing lead and surprising plot from first-time director Ann Lupo set itself apart from its competition.
First and foremost, “In Reality” is a romantic-comedy, but it takes a meta-fictional slant. We follow Ann, portrayed by the writer-director sharing the same name, who states the purpose of the movie clearly to her unrequited love, John, portrayed by Miles G. Jackson, that she wants to make a movie about how she can’t get over him romantically. Staring back is the Andrew Garfield-like John, who doesn’t quite know how to process this revelation.
The audience is then whisked away into the mind of our main character, Ann, who is out searching for love. Intercutting between traditional narrative, fever dream sequences and documentary style, almost immediately, we understand we are in for something a bit more unorthodox than any other romantic-comedy.
Her miniature movies-within-the-movie flourish in front of our eyes, as we see what she is imagining, as she makes an event out of the smallest amount of eye contact with a stranger on the street. From imagining a day on the beach with a long-haired surfer, to a forest rendezvous complete with a bath and unicorn as a gift, we are firsthand witnesses to Ann’s character and how she approaches life.
Ann works as a video editor for a newly engaged couple, portrayed by Olivia Washington’s Adrienne and Esteban Pedraza’s Miguel, as the pair describe their own fantastical engagement story, but without the glitz and glamour of Ann’s own imagination. Ann’s best friend Lallie (Kimiko Glenn) acts as Ann’s perky and optimistic confidant, but with her own underlying relationship problems, which Ann is too wrapped up in herself to see.
Lupo’s debut in the director’s chair and her starring role were a delight. Any viewer could tell that she had her own vision for of every shot, edit, dream sequence and line of dialogue and how to execute it. As unorthodox as the storytelling conventions Lupo employs, she makes every cut of digital film with precision, never losing its audience in the back-and-forth of the structure, or when we hop inside her mind.
Magical-realism, which is adding fantastical elements into natural scenes, is what sets this story apart from other romantic-comedies. It frees the film from its own sometimes tired conventions, by giving Lupo direct control of what she wants the audience to know about her, and how she’s feeling. During these sequences, there is an almost homemade feel to its aesthetics, which only adds to the charm of the film as a whole, as we better come to realize the truthfulness of Lupo’s journey of self-discovery.
I couldn’t help but think of “(500) Days of Summer,” in both how it uses the conventions of magical-realism to better show how Ann was feeling, but also in its plot. Lupo also plays a game show version of herself, asking “What’s the Problem?” to herself and her supporting characters, as a way to bring levity while also heavier elements to the story. I was not prepared for the dark depths to wich the narrative goes. It also takes cues from Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” with a surprising but refreshing musical number.
Just as Lupo is confident behind the camera, she also shines in front of it as a fictional version of herself. From the more zany characters in her daydreams, to the emotional anguish she finds herself in, Lupo bears it all on screen, making everything from her self-professed large nose to her emotional weaknesses apparent. Lupo isn’t shy at all that the film wasn’t made just to make one, but as a mode of self-therapy, unraveling her story to better make sense of it.
On the same weekend that the film screened at the festival, “In Reality” also premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and will make its way through similar festivals throughout the year. My sincere hope is that “In Reality” finds an audience and distribution, whether theatrically or digitally, so more independent film lovers can appreciate the realized inventive vision Lupo put out in the world, that could only come from her.