‘Because I had this privileged access, I felt like it was my responsibility to tell this story that was authentic.’
The balance between comedy and drama is a crucial one. Offset by a flicker of a facial expression or a pronounced tone of voice, it can mean the difference between a love story and a tragedy. I spoke with director Romi Trower about her film What if it Works, in which subjects like child abuse and mental illness are deftly handled with a uplifting tone, ultimately crafting an optimistic, at times comic, love story. For Ms Trower, who told me she sees everything as a blend of comedy and drama, it appears to be an effortless task. But the work that she and her cast and put into the film shows what a labour of love and dedication the project is, and what it takes to tell a story that’s at once technically accomplished and honest in its intentions.
The film stars Anna Samson (Wake in Fright TV series) and Luke Ford (The Black Balloon) as Grace and Adrian, two sufferers of mental illness who bump into each other at their therapist’s office. Adrian lives with a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, confining him in his daily life to a series of rituals. He wears gloves and no socks, has a long list of things he won’t touch and doesn’t get close to dogs. For Ms Trower, whose brother has a similarly severe case of OCD, it was important to accurately represent the disorder. She told me that Ford, a committed method actor, was walking around Sydney for weeks in character as Adrian, developing his own idiosyncratic list of compulsions, to the point where he was telling her, the film’s writer and director, what Adrian would and wouldn’t touch. He is, apparently, still unable to kick the habit of lifting the toilet seat with his feet.
Samson’s character suffers from the often poorly represented dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known as multiple personality disorder. A newcomer whose audition tape jumped out at Ms Trower, Samson’s shifts in personality are signified by a pronounced shift in body language. When Grace becomes the hyper sexual ‘G’, her body relaxes and she wears a coy look of seduction as opposed to Grace’s shy timidity. It’s a tremendously physical performance, one which Ms Trower was determined to represent authentically. Ms Trower’s auntie is a psychologist specialising in the disorder, and she was able to attend sessions with DID sufferers and see how they shifted between personalities, knowledge she then applied to the character.
Romi Trower worked tirelessly to get the film funded and taken seriously, followed by a painstaking search for the right shooting locations all on a shoestring budget, and it appears everyone involved was dedicated to make this film work. Currently with a few other projects on the way, Ms Trower is an artistic and passionate director to watch, and her debut film has already spoke volumes with its festival audiences.
With a vibrant colour palette and contemporary soundtrack, Ms Trower lifts the potentially heavy subject matter into something incredibly enjoyable. She told me that, ‘at the end of the day, it’s a love story like any other’ and while certain aspects of it are familiar (there are meet cutes and interfering disgruntled ex-partners), What if it Works is profound in its delivery of the boy-meets-girl-under-unusual-circumstances story
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
What if it Works will be released in cinemas 12 October.