Tribeca Film Festival Short: Peggy
Justin O’Neal Miller’s Peggy tells a tale about a housewife who appears to have it all until the cracks begin to show. Since starting its festival run, Peggy has won numerous awards including Best in Show at Rome International Film Festival, the Jury and Audience Awards for Best Short at Spokane International Film Festival, and the Audience Award for Best Short at Calgary International Film Festival. Peggy stars Sarah Blackman (The Derby Stallion) and Jason MacDonald (The Vampire Diaries).
Peggy’s social graces are put to the test when she throws a birthday party for her eight-year-old son.
Runtime: 12 minutes.
Peggy is cohesively stylized, but it lacks any narrative cogency. Before we are even introduced to Peggy, we are shown several characters on their way to a birthday party whose relationship to Peggy are never really explained. Not only are its characters’ hatred of the titular Peggy extremely superficial, from the viewer’s standpoint, it doesn’t feel justified. To showcase the characters’ feelings on Peggy, the narrative constantly moves in and out of different characters’ perspectives with their internal thoughts reflected in voiceover, which make the film feel unfocused.
More than anything, Peggy feels like an overly long skit than a film. It tries very hard to be funny, which gives it a forced quality that prevents the humor from really landing. Some of the performances are a bit stiff or stilted, others, like Josh Warren’s character, find a way to be more enjoyable at the cost of going too over-the-top at times.
Tonally, it seems to be going for a cutesy, Little Miss Sunshine vibe with an absurdist edge, but it doesn’t always jive together. Its backing music exemplifies this, and much like the film, it has the tendency to border on the obnoxious.
Despite its wonky tone, it is competently executed. There’s a tightness to the direction that is absent in the writing, which is where a bulk of the short’s problems lie. The characters are weak and not properly set up or introduced. As a viewer, we aren’t given a real reason to hate Peggy, but we’re also not given a reason to like her either, so no emotional connection can be made. Furthermore, Peggy’s emotional catharsis exhibited in the film’s conclusion isn’t justified or earned. There’s also a bit involving an owl that makes no logical sense given it’s daytime — a hawk or some other such large bird would have made more sense.
Overall, we appreciated the film’s willingness to go to some wild, weird, and absurd places, even if it they weren’t earned. O’Neal Miller proves that he has the chops to be a director, but that he doesn’t necessarily have what it takes to capture the story on paper. No matter how well executed a film may be, without a good story, the end product will always be as good as what’s on the page.
Rating: 2 owls outta 5.
About the Filmmaker: Director and Producer Justin O’Neal Miller studied at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture, where he won the Grand Prix for his thesis film project, titled Hypertecture. His passion for design and storytelling led to a career in set design and art direction, working for feature films and television including Prisoners, 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, American Made, The Walking Dead, Baby Driver and First Man by Damien Chazelle.
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