Just when it seemed like the theme of unrequited love had been overdramatized by too many movies, along comes Terence Nance with a daring approach to the universal subject. The writer-director-star of “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty” offers up a patchwork that includes snippets from a past film, cartoons, home video, stop motion, drawings, poetry and question-and-answer sessions to dissect how and why, as Nance puts it, he got “friend-zoned.”
Helpfully ushering us through the intricate proceedings is an unnamed narrator, who does nearly all of the film’s talking. He explains that this movie is actually made up of two movies, the first of which (“How Do You Feel?”) was shot in 2006 and documented Terence’s emotions after his crush canceled plans to come over to his apartment. Scenes from that work are interspersed with more recent footage that paints a fuller picture.
In the “How Do You Feel?” segments, the speaker takes an almost scientific approach to the subject matter to explain why this small event had a large impact. He enumerates the weeks Terence and this young lady (Namik Minter, playing herself) have been friends and the ways she appears to have shown romantic interest. He also considers interrelated issues, including Terence’s financial straits, his long commute on the subway, during which young women confront him to touch his marvelous afro, and his inability to build a bed using an ancient Japanese woodjoinery technique.
The story begins to grow before our eyes. And yet, this is still only part of the narrative. As the film toggles to more recent work (signaled by pause and eject signs on the screen), the movie builds even more, examining Terence’s past loves, using animation, and his upbringing, thanks to home movie footage. We also get to hear from Namik.
The film is complex and bold, sometimes even exhilarating. It can also be frustratingly esoteric. With such a heavy emphasis on narration, the filmmaker ignores the “show, don’t tell” directive, and the results are mixed. There is something novel about the speaker’s formal way with words as he discusses Terence’s “gingerly debilitating self-doubt” or his penchant for “meditative masochism.” Other times, the voiceover seems destined to be read instead of heard. It’s difficult to process all of the lyrical material; it sounds fascinating but flits by too quickly to truly comprehend what the speaker is saying.
It could be said that this whole film is from Terence’s perspective, yet we rarely hear his actual voice. He occasionally replaces the narrator, such as when he reads a letter to Namik, but he remains elusive. We know all these bits and pieces about him, but not necessarily enough to feel for him emotionally. Even his long romantic history feels less enlightening than self-indulgent.
While the movie doesn’t paint a clear sense of Nance’s emotional side, one thing is certain: He is an artist with creativity to spare. This effort may not have been wholly successful, but it’s a promising start to what could be a thrilling career.
Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains animated depictions of nudity, death and sensuality.
93 minutes. There will be a Skype Q&A with Nance after the showings Friday at 7:20 p.m. and
Sunday at 5 p.m.