Dim the Fluorescents is theatre on film. Featuring two passion-infused Toronto artists misfiring their creative spunk all over the place, it’s a hilarious and deeply tragic film. The movie follows Audrey (Alias Grace’s Claire Armstrong), a struggling actress, and Lillian (Naomi Skwarna), an aspiring playwright, as they attempt in earnest to make their mark — whilst often feeling the weight of self-doubt.
The two characters immerse themselves in the only paid work they can find: corporate role-playing demonstrations. From sexual harassment to safety in the work place, customer service and finally the much lauded leadership in times of crisis in the workplace, they cover all of these somewhat banal topics with all the vigour and concentration of a first rate staging of Hamlet at The Globe.
The duo, whose creative partnership is inherently linked to their friendship, share an apartment with a kind of psychological Schrodinger’s cat – always present but never seen. Armstrong and Skwarna are both electric, exchanging rounds of rapid-fire dialogue in long takes, not unlike scenes from a play. These are two truly compelling performances. Also great are Andreana Callegarini-Gradzik, who plays Fiona, a groupie/addition to their cast thrust upon them by circumstance, and Clare McConnell, who plays June, their industry friend who seemingly has it all.
The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance earlier this year, is an unabashedly Toronto film without being too glaringly obvious. However, there are plenty of easter eggs and background cameos sure to be picked up on by those in local film, TV, and theatre world.
Directed by Daniel Warth and co-written by Miles Barstead and Warth, Dim the Fluorescents is a clever conversation about creative worth as self worth. You might chuckle at how these women delve so thoroughly and creatively into projects that are so glaringly not the appropriate venue for their aspirations, but you can’t fault them for trying something different or attribute their feelings to anything farcical. With a runtime of two hours or so, Dim does linger in some moments a tad too long, but when the film does eventually deliver us to the finale it is incredibly effective conclusion – perhaps because of those many small moments that preceded it.
Dim the Fluorescents premieres on Friday December 8th at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto. There will be Q & As with cast and crew following the screenings on Friday Dec. 8th, Saturday Dec 9th & Sunday Dec. 10th.
Be sure to listen to my interview with Claire Armstrong and Naomi Skwarna on the latest episode of The Shelf.
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