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Short Film Review: Gina

Malu Rocha reviews the stand-up set from comedian Lewis Costello as he recounts the strange-but-true story of being cheated on.

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Image Credit: Courtesy of Lewis Costello

Gina, an eight-minute short film, follows Lewis Costello as he performs one of his stand-up comedy sets centred around (what I now presume to be) his ex-girlfriend Gina as he recounts the events of when he found her cheating on him. Lewis is a 26-year-old comedian from Manchester who has opened shows for artists like Ed Byrne, Johnny Vegas as well as American comedians like Doug Stanhope and Jackass star Steve-O.

Featuring moments of discomfort, tension, and relief, Lewis’s debut short film evokes a whole range of emotions from the audience. Recounting real life, personal events in such a light-hearted manner surprisingly establishes the film as quite sad and melancholic. There is a moment during the set where Lewis explains the events leading up to when he found his girlfriend naked in bed with another guy, but he then proceeds to laugh at his own misfortune. Albeit a twisted comedic choice in some respects, it does help portray Lewis as a character in the story other than just a narrator of these events.

However, small changes here and there would have helped make the entire film more intimate. While the small crowd helped set the cosy and warm atmosphere, the camera angles used were very impersonal and rarely offered close-up shots of Lewis, making his stage presence significantly weaker. Especially considering that all the action takes place in a stage, better attention could have been paid to lighting and composition. The comedian’s face is partly in the dark for most of the shots, which doesn’t seem like a deliberate directorial decision.

Considering all of this, I did find myself questioning, ‘is a short film really the best medium to tell this story?’ Film as a storytelling technique is inherently led by its aural and visual elements. If a short film features a stand-up comedian (which can be classified as a narrator in this particular case) telling a story, what particular visual appeal does this have on the audience? At the very beginning of his set, Lewis says, ‘I’m about to tell you a story.’ And that’s exactly what he does; he tells us a story. It’s a sad story told in a very funny way. But is that what short films as an audio-visual medium should really showcase?

Because not a whole lot was going on in the visual side of things, the audio had to be superb. And indeed, it was. The sound design created an immersive experience for the audience, who in turn were treated to a very humorous ride while the comedian recounted a very interesting (and turbulent) snippet of his life. Despite it being a narrated story, it does follow a traditional three-act structure, which is quite rewarding for the audience.

Lewis elegantly succeeds in making certain aspects of his set very tangible and real. Even though this whole film can be interpreted as a monologue, the characters within the story are three dimensional and palpable. Every single person in the audience is engulfed by the events in the story as Lewis describes the Scottish lads’ apartment simply by saying that Trainspotting really is a documentary. This wry and innocent humour is present throughout the set (and all the way through the credits, wink wink) and keeps the audience on their toes.

In addition, the opening joke is very cleverly executed. The first few lines are accompanied by establishing shots of the venue, and we only hear the punchline when Lewis first appears on screen. This does wonders in helping contextualise Lewis in his ‘natural habitat’ and quickly introduce us to the main character without any delay, which is always a positive point for any short film. Because the opening joke was so strong, I expected nothing less of the last closing lines, and I wasn’t disappointed. The stand-up set is rounded off nicely by circling back to one of the funniest running gags in the set where Lewis does his best attempt at beatboxing, leaving the audience with a satisfactory feeling as the short film draws to a close.

While watching Gina, one Netflix show in particular stood out to me because of its resonant mood and thematic message. In Patton Oswalt: Annihilation, the comedian reflects on a very personal tragedy by using humour as a coping mechanism, consequently producing what some argue to be his best stand-up set to date. Similarly, Lewis Costello recounts what would have otherwise been a very heart-breaking and bitter moment of his life with light-hearted humour, gently reminding us all of the sheer power of comedy in tough times.

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