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There is something inherently weird about psychodramas. Trying to delve in the psychology of a character seems like a fool’s errand, especially in 90 minutes or less. But even so, it can’t hurt to try. Nancy, Please makes an honest effort to justify the mental deterioration of its protagonist and simultaneously keep the audience from getting too alienated.
But is it successful? Well… kind of.
Director: Andrew Semans
Release Date: TDB
Paul Brawley (Will Rogers) has a problem with his old roommate. Her name is Nancy (Eleonore Hendricks), and she is crazy. When the film begins, he has just moved into a new house with his girlfriend, Jen (Rebecca Lawrence) but realizes he left something important back at the old place: his copy of Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens. What’s important isn’t the book itself, however, but the notes inside of it. He tells everyone that the notes are irreplaceable, and that he cannot work on his dissertation without it. But Nancy won’t give it back. And therein lies Paul’s distress.
The most interesting things that movies about mental deterioration can do is play with reality. They can use strange effects, depict hallucinations, and generally give a sense of visual (or aural) unease. Nancy, Please doesn’t take advantage of that. Early in the film, Paul hears the sound of a squirrel in the wall. He goes up to it, and it seemed like the beginning of something. I didn’t know what it meant or why it was a squirrel, but I felt like it was the beginning of his psychosis. Instead, it was just a squirrel. An actual thing that his girlfriend hears too. Eventually the squirrel becomes a physical thing that is utilized as part of Paul’s insanity, but it’s not the same thing. Only one scene really takes any advantage of the instability of its protagonist, and it’s a wasted opportunity.
The bigger issue is that Nancy, Please reveals an inherent flaw in narrative psychodramas: paranoia isn’t real. In order for the film to actually depict deterioration, the antagonist cannot be an evil character. They are just a person. Sometimes they’re bad, sure, and Nancy would fall into that category, but they are not out-and-out destructive. They aren’t out to ruin anybody. Nancy is weird and a little bit crazy, but she has no interest in Paul and his troubles. He moved out, and she doesn’t want to deal with him anymore. But Paul takes it so much further. He convinces himself that she is out there, plotting revenge for some unknown offense. But it can’t be real, because if she is actually after him, then his madness is meaningless. He has every reason to be afraid, to occupy every moment with thoughts about this evil external force. In the end, it was about a guy who was being pursued and reacted in an unfortunate but understandable way.
But Nancy, Please isn’t about that. It couldn’t be. It’s about the guy who has no idea what he’s doing or what he has gotten himself into. His enemy is hardly an enemy at all. No, Nancy is not Paul’s friend, and she definitely does go out of her way to be unhelpful, but as things start to fall apart, what initially seemed like overreactions become increasingly relatable. Paul’s attempts to retrieve his book become less conventional and more creepy, although that’s not something I really thought about until the credits rolled.
However, when the big moment comes, and Paul confronts Nancy, things get really, really strange. Nancy’s reaction borders on psychotic, and her outburst, while maybe a little justifiable, is off-putting. The entire film has set her up to be this kind of demon, and then it shows her to be something far less dangerous… until it shows her being actually physically dangerous. Maybe it’s a script thing, or maybe Eleonore Hendricks didn’t have the acting chops to pull the scene off, but there was something about the confrontation that was completely wrong. It did not work. It made everything that had led up to that moment less powerful in a pretty dramatic way.
Which is really too bad, because there is some really good stuff there. Even if Paul’s reactions are clearly delusional, his character is just sympathetic enough to make that okay. There were moments where I thought that Nancy really was out to get him, and I felt like I understood him. I had gotten into his psychology, the way that the filmmakers wanted me to. Those moments were sad, and I wanted everything to be okay for Paul. He’s a nice guy who was put into a bad situation, and I wished that there was some way to help him. But his delusions got the better of him, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.