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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Skeet Ulrich's Directing Debut "The Girl on the Roof" A Slice of Real Life Fantasy

"THE GIRL ON THE ROOF" (2014)
Genre: Drama
Length- 25:39
Company: N/A
Website: Official

Lila (Naiia Ulrich) is relentlessly bullied by the other students at her elementary school.  Home is no safe haven either -- her mother (Susan May Pratt) is a famous actress and a raging narcissist while her dad (Todd Lowe) is unemployed and a neglectful alcoholic.

The bullies snatch her during gym class and haul her off behind a wall.  In the process of beating her up, she hits her head on the ground.

And that's when her reality starts getting . . . well . . . a little weird.

AN ISSUE OF LENGTH
 
"The Girl on the Roof" is actor Skeet Ulrich's directorial debut, shot from a screenplay by actress Amelia Jackson-Gray (who also plays Lucy in this short film).  Its pacing is surprisingly leisurely, with long handheld tracking shots following Lila from location to location.  The final film clocks in at a little over twenty five minutes, which is a tad on the long side, in my opinion.  In my experience, short films are at their best when they are between five and fifteen minutes in length, unless their stories are particularly intriguing.

Ulrich's direction is confident and he's not afraid of long takes, which honestly is commendable in
today's post-MTV "now, now, NOW" culture.  That being said, in the case of this particular short film, I'm not sure if this was the best artistic choice for the film.  Add to that the fact that Lila herself is extremely quiet and shy, so she doesn't get to put a voice to what she's feeling.  Naiia Ulrich is forced to do most of her acting with her eyes, and she does an admirable job particularly considering her young age. 

After she hits her head one and a half minutes in to the film, we spend the next six minutes setting up the very ugly situation at home: the narcissistic actress mother, the drunk, barely present dad and the maybe/kinda affair between dad and Lucy.  Then, eight minutes in, Lennie James (Morgan from TV's "The Walking Dead") pops in for his dual roles, and we're off to the races.  James is always a pleasure to watch onscreen and I loved seeing him bring his considerable acting skills to the table. 

AN ALTERNATE TAKE

Part of the enjoyment of "Girl on the Roof" is how it shows the fracturing of reality onscreen, and does so creatively and in an emotionally affecting way.  The problem with it however is that we are not aware of these alternate realities until the film's three quarters of the way done.  Everything seems legitimate and as though it's really happening, and we never get the assurance of which reality is the actual, true reality.  That might have been Jackson-Gray's intention when she wrote the screenplay, but it felt rushed and therefore inauthentic here -- it felt more like an excuse to get Lila out of one predicament and into another.

So . . . did I enjoy "Girl on the Roof"?  I was interested in seeing where it was going, yes.   In terms of production value, it was top notch, and the acting was for the most part good. 

But I can't help but feel there was a message in there somewhere that I was meant to receive, some kind of a statement about life and harsh reality, and how sometimes fantasizing about being somewhere else is the only way to survive.

OVERALL SCORES: 
 
Writing: 3 / 5.  Jackson-Gray's script kept my attention and prompted some introspective thoughts about reality, but that part of the plot came in too late and left too suddenly.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  I appreciated Ulrich's slow and steady approach to directing, taking the time to get to know the characters and set up interesting shots.  Unfortunately, I felt like the film was going nowhere until almost ten minutes in, and some viewers will probably be turned off by that.
Editing: 3 / 5.  I really enjoyed some of the stylish transitions (all about the close-up on one man's mouth as it became two squad cars, that was very cool) and the color looked natural and professional.  The only problem was, again, the fact that the film moved way too slowly and went on far too long.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  I really enjoyed The Angel's music in this short, and I encourage all of you to check out her website and listen.  Really impressive and emotive.
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Jackson-Gray turned out the best performance of the film.  Her portrayal of Lucy was extremely sympathetic and realistic, and you couldn't help but like her even when she's turning on the charm for a married man.  She even won a Best Supporting Actress award from Action on Film International Film Festival.  Naiia Ulrich is a standout as well considering how young she is, but the other kids are extremely uneven (as can be expected), and Susan May Pratt just feels off for most of the film.  Lennie James is, as always, awesome, and Todd Lowe has a couple really nice lines while he's arguing with Pratt.

Final Grade3.3 / 5.

Follow Skeet Ulrich and Amelia Jackson-Gray on Twitter and keep up to date on "Girl on the Roof" right here!






Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!