Speed of Life, 2020.
Written and Directed by Liz Manashil.
Starring Ann Dowd, Ray Santiago, Vella Lovell, Sean Wright, Allison Tolman, and Jeff Perry.
David Bowie’s death rocks the lives of June & Edward. The superstar’s passing rips a literal hole in the universe, sucking Edward in. Fast forward 24 years, an older June is shocked to find her once-beloved shot back out of this inter-dimensional portal, unchanged from his entry in 2016. The ensemble struggles to understand the extreme ch-ch-changes that have befallen them in this dramedy.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that David Bowie has probably emotionally affected or moved anyone that has ever had the pleasure of listening to his timeless music or even witnessing some of his acting (Labyrinth ranks among one of the most entertaining musicals ever made to this critic), and his death in 2016 did genuinely feel like a piece of what makes the universe function being ripped away. So rather than make a straight biopic or a story built on the backbone of David Bowie’s music, writer and director Liz Manashil has gone the inspirational room for her sophomore narrative feature, Speed of Life.
June (Allison Tolman during the present day and Ann Dowd in the future) and Edward (Ray Santiago) are a mid-30s couple that, on the surface, are compatible together but not without rifts opening. Edward has a habit of making jokes at inappropriate times and generally doesn’t take life as seriously as June. He’s also incapable of picking up on some important things she requires to be happy, to the point where she is questioning the stability of the relationship. Essentially, Speed of Life clumsily starts with an argument before we have any real idea of who these characters are (a huge misstep considering the running time is only a scant 76 minutes). It’s kind of like walking in on Marriage Story during the explosive argument and finishing the movie from there (two very different movies but given how close they are releasing, it’s tough not to draw the comparison), except this one takes the death of David Bowie and how much that saddens June, shifting gears to sci-fi as a wormhole sucks Edward inside for 24 years before spitting him back out.
Yes, Speed of Life takes the collective reaction at the death of David Bowie and turns it into a sci-fi vehicle, and while that concept is most definitely interesting, it, unfortunately, gets lost as the script tries to flesh out a future world. More specifically, 2040, where anyone that reaches the age of 60 is bound by law to be housed in what sounds like government nursing homes. Technology has also been upgraded with Siri-reminiscent devices that are now invasive and pushy just as much as they are useful for performing basic tasks.
June has never left the home she and Edward lived in at the time of his disappearance, always thinking about him and hoping that he would one day return. Naturally, she has garnered somewhat of a reputation as a crazy lady insistent that he did disappear into a wormhole, but also has a long-standing friendship with an older man (played by Jeff Perry) who believes her and is great for confiding in. If June wasn’t so hung up on Edward, it’s not far-fetched to say that they would be a couple.
The man also has a daughter (played by Vella Lovell), as the narrative periodically shifts to her perspective to better illustrate the divide between young and old. Talking to a friend, she expresses her shock at how the elderly were once upon a time able to wander around freely and even drive. Maybe it’s meant to analyze how some legends such as David Bowie will be lost on the youth as just some old guy, as the younger characters tend to focus on superficial aspects of their appearance. This is a nice juxtaposition to David Bowie, who obviously encouraged and celebrated being weird and aesthetically different.
At the same time, much of it also has nothing to do with a movie that already seems to have gone to the shooting stage without much of a fully realized storyboard that could successfully captivate for 75 minutes. If anything, Speed of Life would work better as a short (Liz Manashil has also made quite a few of those), as when it comes down to it no character really goes on a compelling arc. The sci-fi touches are also too familiar and generic to actually add anything to the narrative. However, the performances themselves are fine; Ann Dowd takes control of her destiny to spend the eve of her 60th birthday with the returned Edward before fleeing the country, whereas Ray Santiago gets a touching moment trying to contact his parents after 24 years of absence. Speed of Life is a well-meaning tribute to David Bowie but could use a little more stardust to truly feel magical.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com