Loneliness is a powerful feeling. Take a person away from people, away from human contact you invite a kind of desperation that can feel so intense it can cripple you or send you to seek out any kind of connection. However what causes a person to seek out loneliness, the kind of solitude that is part punishment, part defence mechanism? One Last Thing is a film that means to bring people together but its greatest achievement is creating a character who has hidden in his own loneliness for so long he isn’t sure what he really wants.
Dylan (Wendell Pierce) is a man with a simple life, he runs his own dental practice, he golfs every day and enjoys a nightly scotch. He does all this alone, sharing the occasional conversation with his dental nurse Jaime (Joanne Froggatt). When he gets word that he might have finally found his long-lost daughter Lucy (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), he seeks her out in New York but doesn’t quite grasp the implications on his perfectly crafted solitude.
Much like A Star is Born, this is a film that is elevated by performance. Pierce and Smollett-Bell are a double act that raises up an admittedly simplistic story and script beyond its almost Lifetime-esque trappings. Long lost family members reunite is an inherently shmaltzy premise but director Tim Rouhana tries to avoid its many pitfalls by leaping over the cliché moments of bonding, instead choosing to concentrate on how their lives change, not how they feel, he leaves that up to his performers.
It’s a subdued film, never loudly stating anything. It feels like a story trying to tread ground in a way others haven’t thought of. The problem with this approach to storytelling is that it rarely makes for a convincing tale. In trying to find another way you take your characters out of the realm where they make sense. Rouhana neglects his characters by striving to be unique. Being special is all well and good but when you have a decent story there is a lot to be said about playing it straight.
Clearly a fan of the symbolic gesture, the script (also written by Rouhana) is understandably bare. The uncomfortable nature of getting to know someone rids these two people of their usual patterns of conversations of behaviour. This not only forces them to create new patterns but makes for a playful learning curve for the audience. While the film spends time setting up Dylan before his adventure begins, the person he slowly becomes is utterly different. While he learns who he is, we do too.
The film sparkles at first as it dissects Dylan’s life, the good, the bad and the stuff in between. Rouhana builds a pretty, if not slightly depressing portrait which Pierce colours within by adding small touches within the boundaries of the script. Every breath Pierce takes means something, his indecision and fear flow through his face while still leaving enough to flesh out of him over the course of the film. The idea that we all want something is one Rouhana and Pierce have clearly discussed as Dylan’s desires need not be spoken, they are described through body language and even the pauses he takes in his delivery.
The main problem here is an aesthetic one. While most films use the backdrop of The Big Apple to add life to a film. A hustle and bustle atmosphere that directs a films characters to atypical actions and rushed decisions, One Last Thing paints a bleaker picture. The city looks dull and lifeless through Rouhana’s lens. It’s hard to tell if this was a conscious choice because all it seems to do is sap the joy out of any given scene. The amount of time they spend roaming the city at night makes for a darker film than the one Rouhana wanted to make. The scarce moments spent in Florida are full of colour and life in a way he couldn’t replicate in a city that has its own luminosity, a ruined opportunity indeed.
That’s not to say One Last Time doesn’t breathe life into a story told countless times. It just doesn’t strive for greatness, it feels like a great play trying to make it to the screen. The atmosphere just isn’t there and despite some willing participants in Pierce who makes loneliness oddly encapsulating and Smollett-Bell who brings light to any story, harking back to her time of Friday Night Lights. Rouhana has proved he is excellent and looking within his story and finding the character beats that make for dynamic people but its a shame he didn’t take a moment to look around him and embrace what makes the world around them beautiful. In short he should have taken a moment to smell the roses.