'Blowing Up Right Now': Film Review
A couple’s breakup is thwarted by an approaching ballistic missile in this low-budget rom-com.
The premise of the conspicuously low-budget Blowing Up Right Now is far from original: What would you do if the world were about to end? The idea is often mined for apocalyptic horror or humor, and as a cauldron for viewing characters at their most truthful and exposed. Here it becomes an excuse for a predictable rom-com about a floundering graphic artist named Shep, whose advertising-executive girlfriend, Mandy, has just announced that they’ve outgrown each other and it’s over. Suddenly a text alert tells them that a ballistic missile is headed toward their Burbank neighborhood. After a quick attempt to leave town — we’re given no idea how they escape the gridlock they are caught in — they barricade themselves at home and the breakup is on and off and on again.
Director Tom Morris tries hard, with middling success, to make the most of his constraints, including a small cast and just a few locations. Morris, who directed two earlier, little-known films (Oliver, Stoned and General Education), displays a style that is sleek and fluid, and he gets energetic performances from Sujata Day as Mandy and especially from Danny Jolles as Shep. All that makes Blowing Up Right Now painless and pleasant enough to watch, but there’s nothing to set this comedy above a gazillion other, fresher works streaming all around us.
The screenplay by Chris Lee Hill is too flat to distract us from the production’s low-cost strategies. Among those ploys, the film relies on Facetime and webcam chats to provide exposition and include other characters. Mandy Facetimes her best friend, confiding to her — and, of course, to us — about her flirtation with a co-worker. Shep talks to his parents. Those conversations may be a fact of millennials' lives, but they have also become stock ways for films to feed us information and keep an eye on the budget.
A little of that goes a long way. When Shep puts his laptop on the mantel and the couple goes at some end-of-the-world sex, trying new positions in a comic montage, he forgets that the laptop is still sending out his webcast to his site’s followers. We don’t forget, and can see the inevitable result coming 20 minutes away.
The pic does better with its rom-com elements. In the best and possibly most down-to-earth thread, Shep and Mandy talk about how they have invented their meet-cute story, with different versions for his family, for hers and for their friends. No one’s meet-cute story is true, Mandy insists. Real life doesn’t work that way.
But even the best lines are not extremely clever. "This is as safe as anywhere," Mandy says as they start nailing the door shut. "We can break up after the world ends." And at times the dialogue is simply flat-footed. "Everybody’s just lying to themselves to fall in love, just so we can feel less alone," she says.
Jolles, who played the hangdog office worker George on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, makes Shep an excitable doofus. He doesn’t understand Mandy but adores her, at least until the guy she’s been flirting with comes crawling in the window to see if she’s OK. Jolles’ appealing performance is a real asset.
Day makes Mandy too whiny to be likable, but at least you believe that her feelings keep shifting as she is torn between Shep, who may be her soulmate (although we never know why), and the excitement of a bigger new world without him.
Despite the quick foray into traffic and a couple of visits to a local restaurant, the entire movie is set inside the couple’s house, where some intentionally absurdist touches liven things up. They make a tent in the bedroom, as if that will protect them. They eat mounds of popcorn; really, no one has that much popcorn around. Shep tries to get back at Mandy by inviting in a fan of his website, who turns out to be a comic, stalker-like presence. But the absurdity takes second place to the romance, which in the end never seems dynamic enough to matter.
Production companies: Tomkat Films, Infinite Lives Entertainment
Cast: Danny Jolles, Sujata Day, Pete Gardner, Kelli Maroney
Director: Tom Morris
Screenwriter: Chris Lee Hill
Producers: Tom Morris, Chris Lee Hill, Jaz Kalkat, Tyler MacIntyre, Aaron Webman
Director of photography: Brooks Ludwick
Production designer: Sarah B. Lund
Costume designer: Suzie Ford
Editor: Tyler MacIntyre
Music: Russ Howard III