Director Derek Frey turns the rom-com genre on its head in his short film, Awkward Endeavors. Written by The Minor Prophets, this film stars Gil Damon as Greg, a lovelorn middle-aged piano student of Melinda, the talented, kind piano teacher played by Kathleen Kozack. What in other films may have been the climax of a rom-com film, the heartwarming profession of love, turns into a cringe-worthy comedy, a schadenfreude for the audience.
Greg doesn’t have a lot going for him. He is a middle-aged pizza man who presumably lives alone. His one desire is Melinda, who seems to have a lot going for her. She has multiple students including a child prodigy piano player, Desmond Frey, whose immense skill highlights Greg’s un-remarkability. Melinda also has a loving husband and a home. Nothing about Greg’s love for Melinda appears reciprocal, and yet Greg pursues her in an endearingly pathetic way.
The presence of Melinda’s husband, Jerome played by Steve Kuzmick trimming bushes in the backyard as the love declaration is about to happen ramps up the film’s tension. While Melinda deals with Greg inside the house, Jerome has his own awkwardness to deal with outside the house in the form of a chatty neighbor named Paul played by David Amadio. Paul has an obsession with movie trivia. From Jerome’s exasperation, it sounds as if Paul has come over to bother him multiple times in the past.
This film would not be possible without the clever breadcrumbs of backstory built into the screenplay. Moreover, the performances nail the backstories - from each look to line read. The audience is only given a moment with all of these characters, and yet every perspective seems clear and unique.
While the film is simplistic in production, lighting, and sound design, it captures the story elements well - the rising tension, the awkwardness, the characters, and the comedy. The film had an animated short film feel to the comedy. That is, it was full of visual gags that gave it charm.
The cleverness of this film comes from questioning genre conventions and the honesty within absurdity. If a man like Greg hit on a married woman like Melinda, a response like the one in Awkward Endeavors seems more realistic than the plethora of rom-com love declarations out there.
Awkward Endeavors isn’t Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meeting in a park “for the first time” in real life ala You’ve Got Mail or Tom Cruise having Renée Zellweger at hello. It’s a poorly timed, poorly executed, reading-all-the-wrong signs comedy of errors. The reversal is refreshing and delightful.
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