Monday, April 29, 2019

Tribeca ’19: Only

The difficult thing about the apocalypse is how it puts a strain on romantic relationships. Frankly, Will is pretty lucky to be involved with Eva, because she just might be the last woman on Earth. A deadly virus has swept the planet, but it is only fatal to women. Beyond the catastrophic death toll, the social disruption is profound in director-screenwriter Takeshi Doscher’s Only, which screens during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.

It is kind of like Night of the Comet, but the disease spread in its wake is more discriminatory. Will and Eva tried to save her roommate Carolyn, but while waiting in the hospital, he notices all the incoming victims are women. Instead, he tries to save Eva by turning her apartment into a quarantine chamber, following the instructions of her father, an infectious disease specialist in India. They assume he will only have to keep her sequestered for a few days, but months go by without the discovery of a cure.

Eventually, the government starts sweeping up surviving women from their hiding places, to utilize their eggs in the re-population planning program. Yet, despite the dangers, Eva gets increasingly angsty to feel the sun again and get out from under Will’s controlling thumb.

So, according to Doscher, in times of crisis, women get emotional, while men get controlling.  Both are stereotypes, but at least Doscher gives solid grounding for every difficult and mistaken decision Eva and Will make. This is a deeply intimate apocalyptic film—probably the most since David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense. Indeed, the Will’s loving and fraying relationship with Eva is far and away the most compelling aspect of the film. They feel like a real couple, with real history, and real issues.

Both Leslie Odom Jr. and Freida Pinto hold up under Doscher’s searing focus, carrying the nearly two-handed film quite well. They have genuine chemistry together, but they also convincingly portray the messiness of a relationship under extreme strain. Frankly, we have gone down this apocalyptic road before, with only a tragic couple to guide us (as in Orthwein & Sullivan’s Bokeh), but Odom and Pinto still make us give a darn.

Doscher’s calibration of societal breakdown is somewhat fresh and different. Things have completely fallen apart, yet there is still enough infrastructure and social framework for people to continue going through the motions of their previous lives. However, his vision of the Federal government turned into a dystopian jack-booted police state is a tiresome cliché. In reality, can you imagine the politically correct panic if a disease really hit women and children (by extension) hardest?

Regardless, Doscher’s leads keep us thoroughly invested throughout Only. It might not be the most original film of the year, but it effectively taps into the fear of H-something super-viruses that is still very much percolating within our collective subconscious. Recommended for fans of Armageddon, Only screens again this Thursday (5/2) and Saturday (5/4), as part of this year’s Tribeca.