The Present : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on May 24, 2024 in / No Comments


Not Rated by the MPA (contains slight language and innuendo – equivalent to PG). Running time: 86 minutes. Released by The Movie Partnership. In UK cinemas from 24 May 2024. US release date: 6/14/24.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Present, Strike Media, The Movie PartnershipOne family. Two parents about to announce to their three kids – one with autism – that they’re separating. And one grandfather clock with the magical ability to turn back 12 hours. So goes The Present, a wittily-titled film sure to garner comparisons to Groundhog Day, but the ethos is different here, and it provides more opportunities for different avenues and possibilities. It also provides more opportunities to get into messes even bigger than the one before.

Christian Ditter familiarizes us with the film’s inner workings through each iterative day, as the silent Taylor (Easton Rocket Sweda) goes about his business. At first, we chalk his behavior up to his condition, as he is largely uncommunicative, especially compared to gregarious older siblings Emma (Shay Rudolph) and Max (Mason Shea Joyce). When we first see Taylor carrying his Etch-a-Sketch to a hastily-called family dinner, we think that it’s his preferred communication device. Eventually, this Etch-a-Sketch is how we’re introduced to the fact that he’s been turning back the clock – literally – an unknown number of times to change the way that dinner’s going to go, which is when Erik (Greg Kinnear) and Jen (Isla Fisher) plan to announce their separation.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Present, Strike Media, The Movie PartnershipIn the twelve-hour window, several things are bound to happen, beginning with the delivery of Erik’s father’s decrepit grandfather clock. This morning delivery reveals script written inside the clock that hints at possible magical properties, which Taylor has used at least 27 times before the film’s start. Throughout the day, we see more exchanges between Erik and Jen which show that neither of them might fully believe in what they’re doing, but – as is wont to happen in these films – something always comes up to push one or the other away. And it doesn’t help that Taylor and Max (the latter by complete accident) get involved and add their own idiosyncrasies and baggage to an already-chaotic day.

The stunts the siblings pull in order to keep their parents from separating are the kind readily found in Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Run Lola Run, and other short loop films that count on certain events occurring at preordained times. A grab bag of nifty tricks – Taylor being able to write what Emma’s saying before she says it, someone being told to answer the doorbell just before it rings – sits alongside more thorough machinations, like exploiting a nut allergy, destroying an apartment, and other more daring shenanigans. The kids run a wide gamut of plays, from innocuous white lies to near-murder (played off as comedy, but still), and it’s heartening to see the disparate kids – one separated by speech and touch, the other two constantly being at odds with each other in the way that teens and preteens are – getting to work together and coming to know each other again.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Present, Strike Media, The Movie PartnershipLikewise, we see Jen and Erik looking at their relationship and realizing that it won’t take much but a spark to get things back on track. Of course, this being an 86-minute comedy, we also realize that it won’t take much to get things derailed, either. From visits with a distracted therapist (Arturo Castro) to Jen’s spin class hunk moving in on her to Erik finding a new place to live, we see the layers of their discontent with each other, but we also see misgivings about their future apart. Various interludes – some caused by the kids, some actually perpetuated on their own – sow seeds of reconciliation, but when we go deeper, we see a truthful hurt that stems any tide of positivity, thus necessitating another trip to the clock in the basement.

From sci-fi to romance to horror, time loop films have a built-in energy that keeps us in the hunt for the various ways the protagonists use this device for their own ends. Here, Jay Martel’s script doesn’t just give us the satisfaction of seeing long and short games played out to differing ends; he also uses ripple effects to carefully give previously shorter exchanges larger and more emotional effects, such as being able to change Jen and Erik’s separate afternoon meetings into a hopeful “afternoon delight” between them both. Martel, with good direction by Ditter, also keeps things low-key and realistic, never going for histrionics or screaming. We’re seeing a family at the end of its rope, not The War of the Roses, and the bitter stays at appropriate levels to let the sweet shine through.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Present, Strike Media, The Movie PartnershipMaybe the titular present is the timeframe that gets toyed with by the Diehl siblings. Or maybe it’s the big thing they do in the final minutes as a last-ditch effort. Or maybe it’s the clock itself. It could be being present, in the here and now. Regardless, The Present is a heartwarming, moving take on time travel and using it to keep a family together. Time loops are always fun, but seeing these loops from a child’s perspective and the childish methods used gives The Present an esprit that makes you hope for the best.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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