Review by Sean Boelman
Fourteen, the newest film from independent filmmaker Dan Sallitt, is a low-key drama that could have spared to be a bit more subtle. Yet despite some issues with the dialogue and script, there’s some very good material here that makes it a much more satisfying watch than one would expect.
The movie follows two childhood friends over a decade as they grow apart, one of them striving for success in her personal and professional life, and the other struggling to find her footing without support. It’s a relationship melodrama with a structure that has been seen before, but it is refreshing to see it explore a friendship rather than the more conventional romantic love.
The narrative jumps around time a lot, being a series of interactions between the two lead characters. Because of this, the audience focuses on the high-conflict moments of the relationship. However, unlike other films with a fragmented narrative such as this, there is no opportunity to see the more mundane, and as a result, the movie loses its feeling of authenticity.
There isn’t a whole lot of subtlety to what Sallitt has to say, and unfortunately, a lot of the material is discussed through heavy amounts of exposition. This gives the film a very play-like and uncinematic nature, especially in the final segment of the movie, which is very over-the-top and forced.
Undoubtedly the most interesting part of this film is the dynamic that exists between the two characters. Even when the events of the movie only involve one of them, the shadow of the other is obviously present. Sallitt does a very good job of building his characters to be compelling in this way.
That said, the acting in the film sticks out as one of the weaker links in the movie. Perhaps because the dialogue comes across as so theatrical, the actors very much feel like they are giving a performance to the camera, not bringing their characters to life. Tallie Medel and Norma Kuhling are undoubtedly talented, but they simply seem to be going about the delivery in the wrong way.
Visually, Sallitt’s film is very simple but elegant and effective. The movie was made on a very low budget, though it feels extremely lived-in nevertheless. Plenty of movies that are purely independent like this find themselves brushed under the rug, but Sallitt’s command of the medium in exploring his characters will allow it to stand out.
There are some rough moments in Fourteen, but those portions are countered by others that are thoughtful and insightful. The audience for this film may be limited, but those who enjoy this type of refined melodrama will certainly appreciate what Sallitt brings to the table.
Fourteen is now streaming in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.