In Review: ‘California’

A not-so-sunny day in the life of a downtrodden millennial

Director Tracy Mathewson’s short film ‘California’ deals with the startlingly relatable and heart-rending tie between father and daughter, and the rippling aftereffects of a tumultuous past. All the while, the film works toward highlighting the limits and failures of our increasingly relied upon, modern-day form of communication – Facetime.

‘California’ begins on Christmas day, which Calli (played by Sophie Birnie Smith) is spending alone with a microwave meal. The plot then reverts to a flashback, an eleven-minute continuous take, with Calli staying at a friend’s house while she tries to make her way in the new city she has just moved to, juggling two jobs to do so. She has migrated to California, but the film is shot entirely inside the four walls of a plainly decorated flat/house – rendering a much drearier, greyer version of the sunny city we have in mind when we think of LA. Mathewson does distance, isolation, and solitude excellently by placing her characters in scenarios that envelope the actors in seclusion.

Whilst navigating a conversation with her father, played by Nick Cornwall (‘In Extremis’, ‘Dragons of Camelot’), over Facetime, Calli uncovers something that she understands will impact her future for the worse, while at the same time causing her to question her whole past. By littering dialogue with insinuations, Mathewson builds a picture of a family history in all of its nuances, while painstakingly demonstrating the inadequacies of digital communication, shown by Calli’s attempt to hide her face from her father as she cries.

Birnie Smith’s brilliant and understated performance delves into a topic that some viewers will share and hold dear – she hides her face from her father, agonising along the way of their one-take conversation. The way of dealing with this not-uncommon news from her father is a testimony to the love we uphold for our parents despite their mistakes. The relationship between Calli and her father (both actors from the Northeast of England) is portrayed lovingly onscreen – it proves to be both complex and fickle – stretching from bitterness to flirtatiousness, but ultimately it shows that love for a parent is undying. 

‘California’ has already been awarded Best Drama Short, Best Actress, Best Made in LA Short and Expectational Merit from a selection of festivals in 2021 from across the US and the UK, including Brighton and Los Angeles Rocks film festivals. It is also an Official Selection at this November’s London Rocks festival, 5-6 November at Whirled Cinema, Brixton.

Dr Tracy Mathewson

Originally from Southern California, now living in the London, Tracy Mathewson has expertly transitioned from sci-fi to drama – her 2016 sci-fi short ‘Appellation’ won Best Direction at Berlin Sci-Fi Film Festival and received a nomination for the Directing Award at BAFTA-Recognised Underwire. We’re excited to see the direction Mathewson will take for her next project.

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