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18½ (Film Review): Watergate Retold

Willa Fitzgerald and John Magaro lead a fictional retelling of the missing 18½ minutes of recording that were infamously deleted during the Watergate scandal in 1974.

World scandals have always been something that have completely intrigued me. Especially so when it comes to politics. The Watergate scandal is one of the main American transgressions that has ever been in the public eye. Dan Mirvish’s 18½ is centred around the 18 1/2 minute gap that infamously was erased from a tape of Richard Nixon’s admittance of his administrations involvement of a break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972. This erased piece of tape was the reason for Nixon’s resignation as president in 1974. However, every character in 18½ is completely fictional, and the only truth in the film are the fragments of tape that are heard.

Connie (Willa Fitzgerald) is a tape transcriber for the White House. She’s an incredibly hard worker, and her colleagues joke that she should take her holiday leave this year as she is constantly at her desk never taking any time off. Whilst working one day she comes across a tape which she instantly recognises. Connie has discovered the missing 18 ½ minute gap from the Nixon tape.

Connie’s first thought after realising that this is the Nixon tape is to contact a reporter at The Times whose work she is familiar with. Paul (John Magaro, of Past Lives) meets Connie at a quiet diner and discusses her findings with him. Together, they decide to stay at the Silver Sands motel to listen to the tape with each other. They act as a married couple and change their names so no one will realise that they were ever staying there. Connie’s plan is to let Paul write down everything thats on the tape so that she can return the tape first thing on Monday morning. Paul can then plaster the news in The Times without leaving a single trace back to Connie. Seems simple, right?

Fitzgerald is an absolute standout as Connie. Her role in MTV’s Scream as Emma Duval has to be one of my all time favourite final girls. She continues to impress with every character she plays, and really deserves all the praise for her acting in 18½. John Magaro is similarly just as entertaining and is extremely good at playing a mysterious character. Throughout 18½,  Paul is arcane, and it’s hard to distinguish whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.

loud and clear reviews 18½ dan mirvish 2022 film
Vondie Curtis Hall (Samuel), John Magaro (Paul), Willa Fitzgerald (Connie) and Catherin Curtin (Lena) star in Dan Mirvish’s film 18½ (Elle Schneider / 2021, Waterbug Eater Films, LLC)

When Connie and Paul arrive at the motel, they’re greeted by a group of hippies who are care-free souls and insist on everyone joining the revolution. Jack (Richard Kind), the motel receptionist, gives Connie and Paul a cottage next to the beach. Their room is filled with wood decor and cream curtains which drape all the way to the cottage floor. It has the most pleasant 70s feel to it. They instantly go towards the tape player when they walk in through the doors to the cottage, which they soon find out doesn’t work.

To find a working tape player, they first go to the hippies who are located on the beach. When they don’t have one, their next bet is to go to the married couple, Lena (Catherine Curtin) and Samuel (Vondie Curtis Hall), who are staying at the same motel in a cottage just around the corner. Connie and Paul tell them that they’re on their honeymoon and Samuel and Lena invite them over for dinner. Paul notices that Samuel and Lena have a tape player as soon as he enters their cottage, but is polite enough to wait it out to ask to borrow it until the night is over.

Samuel, Lena, Connie and Paul all have dinner together, sipping on endless wine, getting tipsier by the minute. The questions get more and more intense as the night goes on, which slowly but surely increases the tension between all of the characters. After dinner, Connie and Paul finally get to ask about borrowing the tape player and Samuel and Lena agree. They take it back to their room to listen to the tape together finally but as the film transcends into its third act, nothing is at all what it seems.

Above all, the 70s feel of 18½ is nailed perfectly. From the wardrobe to the set design, this could have been a genuine 70s film. Monica Dabrowski, production designer, and Sarah Coogan, consume designer, both had a hard task of getting every shot to look like a 1974 America, and they both did it extremely well. Fitzgerald’s outfits especially really capture the essence of a leading  70s lady.

The script, written by Daniel Moya and based on a story by Moya and Mirvish, is very clever. Basing the script off of the Nixon tape but having everything else be fictionalised makes the story entertaining. We can really get to know our main two leads whilst we wait for the action to happen. The Watergate scandal is engraved into world history, and Mirvish’s depiction makes for an entertaining watch. I will definitely be on the look-out for Mirvish’s next feature in the coming years.

18½: Trailer (Kyyba Films)

18½ will open in theaters in LA on May 27, 2022, and nationwide on June 3. The film will be released on VOD and streaming on July 5. Visit the official site of the movie 18½.

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