Friday, January 10, 2020

Speed of Life: A Time Travel Ode to Bowie

He wrote “Space Oddity” and starred in The Man Who Fell to Earth. David Bowie brought science fiction into rock & roll better than anyone, so he probably would have been amused by the fanciful notion his death could so unbalance the universe, it tears a wormhole into the space-time continuum. That is exactly what happens in director-screenwriter Liz Manashil’s Speed of Life, which releases today on VOD platforms.

January 10, 2016 is a particularly fateful day for June Hoffman. First, her favorite recording artist, David Bowie, passes on to the great glitter club in the sky. Next, her boyfriend Edward Karp is ripped through the wormhole caused by his passing. Rather awkwardly, they were having a “we need to have a talk” sort of argument when he disappeared. For the next three decades, she lives in a state of limbo hoping he will re-materialize, as indeed he does, just when she is due to move into a dystopian state-mandated retirement home on her 60th birthday.

Karp has not aged a second, but society is now a watered-down version of Logan’s Run, requiring communal early bird dinners at sixty, rather than death at thirty. She had intended to run away with her torch-carrying friend Samuel, but Karp’s arrival complicates everything.

Speed of Life is a heartfelt film that features several nicely turned performances, so there is definitely stuff there to like. With that stipulation, it must be noted Manashil does not have a strong grasp on the mechanics of time-travel narratives. Ultimately, she sort of tries to have her temporal cake and eat it too, resulting in an ending that makes no sense whatsoever. She also seems to be uncomfortable handling dystopian themes, because the nearly sixty-year old Hoffman appears to live in a bizarrely sunny and laidback Brave New World. Frankly, it is never clear just how much urgency there is to the countdown to 60. On top of all that, the brief 75-minute feature feels conspicuously padded with a subplot involving Samuel’s daughter Laura and her new neighbor Phillip, which never pays off to any meaningful degree.

Still, Ann Dowd and Jeff Perry give remarkably subtle and mature performances as the older Hoffman and Samuel. Their comfortable chemistry is really quite sweet and poignant. Ray Santiago also has some nice moments as Karp, especially when he realizes the errors of his insensitive ways, three decades into the future.

It would not be satisfying to pick on a little-movie-that-could, like Speed. If you want to see an emotionally honest relationship drama starring a pro like Dowd, then you could certainly do far worse than this. Nevertheless, there are significant narrative problems. It is probably a little unfair to say, given the presumably severe budget constraints and high clearance fees, but the absence of Bowie’s music also hurts the film. He was the musical center of Hoffman’s universe, but she never listens to his songs, all the while she is pining for Karp. So be it. This is not a movie for time travel fans, but if you want a sexagenarian romance, Speed of Life sort of qualifies. It releases today on VOD.