Speed of Life is an introspective drama disguised as a sci-fi movie that uses David Bowie’s death to explore identity and relationships.
In 2016, June (Allison Tolman) and Edward (Ray Santiago) are in their thirties. When we first meet the young couple, they just found out about the death of June’s favourite singer, David Bowie, yet their shock about these sad news soon turns into an argument that is about something else entirely. In fact, it doesn’t take long to realise that June and Edward might not be a perfect match. Our protagonists are dealing with those classic relationship issues that often emerge when two people in a relationship are about to realise they might not be right for one another. June worries about the two of them not being compatible enough, and wishes her other half had the ability to read her mind, so she wouldn’t have to tell him exactly what she needs. Edward doesn’t share June’s worries, and tries to lighten the mood by making a joke – a joke we can’t fully hear because our oblivious boyfriend vanishes into thin air, leaving his confused girlfriend alone in the room.
In 2040, June (now played by Ann Dowd) is still on her own. Her house – the very same house she used to share with Edward – is now full of technological items, from electronic crosswords to invasive governmental-owned monitors that tell her when and how to excercise and regularly check on her health. Director Liz Manashil envisions a future made of TV adverts promoting eternal youth, scrapbooks that appear into thin air and people being sent to state-owned “retirement housing sites” when they turn sixty years old.
In fact, June’s sixtieth birthday is approaching, and our leading lady has a big decision to make. If in 2016 this hopeful young woman was making lists with the aim of “becoming the person [she was] supposed to be”, in 2040 she’s much more disillusioned, desperately trying to “hold on to the present” – a present in which she has to choose between being sent to the government’s facility or agreeing to escape to a faraway country with her next-door neighbour/close friend Samuel (Jeff Perry).
But escaping from a fate of reclusion is not the only thought in June’s mind. Our crossword-solving protagonist is not completely satisfied by her evenings of meditating about life and swearing at the TV with Samuel: though June and her neighbour have certainly managed to find some kind of affectionate balance in a challenging, everchanging world, June is still thinking about her vanished boyfriend – a boyfriend who comes back just when you expect him to. Which is exactly why Speed of Life doesn’t work as well as it could. Though Manashil’s drama originates from the interesting premise of David Bowie’s death creating a hole in the universe, it’s the lack of plausible, original explanations for its dystopian elements that doesn’t let the audience fully engage with it. And, while knowing about the beloved singer’s influence on the movie’s events is bound to make more viewers interested in the story, one cannot help but wonder if Speed of Life could have benefitted from having less sci-fi elements and more introspective moments involving the film’s compelling protagonist.
As a matter of fact, if we forget about David Bowie entirely and don’t pay attention to the film’s Orwellian elements, both of which are never really given a plausible explanation, Speed of Life becomes a captivating film about relationships and identity. June certainly is a fascinating character, and Ann Dowd is exceptional at conveying a great deal of emotions in very little time. In fact, the Garden State actress is responsible for a very touching, unexpected, absolutely heartwrenching scene that makes the entire movie worth watching. Because Speed of Life is not just about the disappearance of a man, nor is it only about a couple’s struggles to communicate: this introspective drama disguised as a sci-fi movie is ultimately an intimate, thought-provoking story about identity.
June is the key to decyphering Speed of Life‘s message, which is both meaningful and extremely relevant. In a world governed by absurd rules and where technology has taken over our lives, June’s worries are painfully familiar. Manashil’s leading lady is so easy to relate to because she represents a series of instantly recognisable ideals, such as the attempt to stay human in a society that doesn’t value communication, the struggle to make the right decision when faced with an impossible choice and, most of all, the need to be consoled and understood that, more often than not, can only be found by being compassionate towards our own selves.
Speed of Life is not a perfect film. Ray Santiago is somewhat miscast as Edward, and the film could have certainly benefitted from losing the David Bowie element, together with some of the sequences involving its not-so-relevant minor caracters (played by Vella Lovell and Sean Wright), in order to focus more on its compelling plot and protagonists. Yet, it is still an enjoyable drama that manages to portray complex emotions and make you think about life’s big questions while preserving a certain lightness that makes it easy for the audience to follow and enjoy its narrative. However, Speed of Life‘s real strength lies in Ann Dowd’s outstanding performance as a multilayered, complex, immensely relatable leading character whose approach to life will stay with you long after the movie ends.
Speed of Life is now available to watch on digital and on demand.