There's only one dud among the seven somber short films featured in Short Stuff. It's a pretentious fantasy flight called "Goddess" in which a Mary Kay-shellacked female icon becomes human in order to avenge the death of a man by his twin brother. Yawn.
But two films punch you in the gut with such unexpected force that they deserve special mention. "Sparky's Shoes" features a gay man visiting his dying, AIDS-afflicted lover in the hospital one last time. The bedside scene, played with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of caresses that are both tenderly nurturing and erotic, makes the deathbed scene in Philadelphia look like Greta Garbo's consumption showstopper in Camille.
Even more breathtaking is Tom Gilroy's "Touch Base," a solo performance piece by Lili Taylor that elevates the internal politics of corporate America into a race against some imminent personal apocalypse. Taylor plays a cocky account executive two hours away from a sink-or-swim presentation who discovers, through a series of phone conversations and E-mail messages, that not only has one of her co-presenters been unceremoniously fired, but that another, who also happens to be her best office buddy, has disappeared--she won't answer her voice mail messages at work or home.
As the deadline approaches and Taylor's need to "touch base" with her co-worker becomes more essential, her composure slides away in a textbook example of great film acting. Every anxious pause, every quivering tone and faltering inflection in her voice, every minute change in facial composition carries us into the soul of a woman who suddenly finds herself losing the psychological safety net she depends on to function in an impersonal, demanding business environment. Taylor's harrowing portrayal makes the last five years of Best Actress Oscar winners look like precocious high-school drama students.
Short Stuff screens Wedneday, April 26, at 7p.m.
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