Most dramatic stories follow a three-act structure, starting with an inciting incident, then a period of rising action, and ending in a climax/resolution. Of course, we’ve seen many filmmakers break that mold, with Pulp Fiction and Last Year At Marienbad coming instantly to mind. Writer/director Anthony Meindl, best known as the founder of his international acting studios, makes his feature debut with such a film, Where We Go From Here, and it’s a powerful, unique, swing for the fences experience.
Told as three separate yet thematically connected storylines, Meindl has crafted a film where the so-called inciting incidents don’t occur until the very end. As such, we enter the lives of a gay couple in Orlando, Florida, a quartet of Parisians whose intermingling triggers deep emotional feelings, and a woman in southern New York, who’s trapped in a violent relationship. Each storyline features acts of gun violence, but the bulk of the film invites us to experience the specific humanity of its characters.
Ricky (Meindl), a middle-aged, successful man, lives with his much younger boyfriend Raul (a touching, natural Matt Pascua), and their age difference brings up all the the expected issues. Raul wants to go out and have fun while Ricky prefers to chill out at home. In a strong sequence, Raul lays out his dilemma to Brenda (fine, subtle work by Ada Luz Pla), their housekeeper. Speaking in Spanish, Brenda talks about escaping her war torn country, coming to America, and wondering if things truly got better for her. Her rapport with Raul makes it easier for him to open up and tell her, “When you tell me something, I totally get it…but when Ricky tries to help, I hate him for it.” Brenda’s hilarious and perfect response is, “That’s because you and I are not fucking!” In this microcosm lies what Meindl is astutely after with his film. Relationships complicate things, bringing out the best and worst in us. They say regrettable things to each other, and in looking at the film overall, it acts as a subtle instructive to approach our differences in a more loving fashion.
The second story, set in Paris, focuses on Adele (Camille De Pazzis) and Mathilde (Justine Wachsberger), who we meet after having sex. Both women, however, have male partners, and when the four get together later to have dinner and attend a concert, they raise issues of sexual fluidity and how that impacts men with their patriarchal, sexist points of view. Again, we see relationships at a crossroads where an agreement seems so far out of reach.
Finally, we meet Elena (Olivia Taylor Dudley), an ESL teacher in Binghampton, New York, who struggles to escape with her young son from an abusive marriage. As she encounters one obstacle after another, we fear for her and root for a better destiny. Dudley is a sensational actor, beautifully showing us every beat, every painful decision, every moment of humiliation as she strives for a better life. All of the actors, many of whom are students of Meindl’s, bring vibrancy and warmth to their roles as an almost palpable sense of tragedy hovers over each of them.
These stories build up an unnerving sense of dread, not so much for what happens at the climax, but by how we can feel something slowly slipping through the fingers of our main characters. On first viewing, I made the assumption that the climaxes were those inciting incidents, but in looking again, Meindl very slyly makes a first disagreement or a barrier to success the moment where everything changes. It’s there when Ricky and Raul can’t agree on how to spend their evening, or how our French quartet mingles on a dance floor. When Elena goes to a bank to clear out her savings, the “no” she gets from the teller affects everything that follows.
I’m reminded of a fantastic film from 1975, The Day Of The Locust, directed by the great John Schlesinger, in which we follow a host of characters in 1930s Hollywood, come to care about them, only to end up with a deadly melee at the end. One could also cite Robert Altman’s Nashville as a similar experience. Where We Go From Here may not be at the level of those two classics, but as an ultra low-budget feature debut, Meindl has certainly not gone down an expected path. He plays with structure and expectations, bringing great empathy to his main characters and punching you in the gut at times when you least expect it. His cinematographer Ray Wongchinda brings a fluidity and gorgeous shallow focus to his shots and makes this film look more expensive than you’d think. They shot a third of this film in Paris on very little money. That’s impressive. I also love when filmmakers with limited funds find perfect solutions to bringing complex scenes to life. By limiting the points of view to our central characters, the violence, when it comes, feels appropriately contained, giving us, the viewers, an insight into what it’s like when something horrific erupts around you and you don’t understand what’s really occurring. The issues this film raises about terrorism and especially domestic violence, couldn’t be more timely. So many people have found themselves sheltered-at-home with an abuser, making a challenging time in our history even more dire. This is a timely, heartfelt film experience. I can’t wait to see what Meindl and company do next.
Glenn Gaylord’s 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE: Where We Go From Here gets a 35 out of 50. While two thirds of its storylines feature LGBTQ+ characters and frank discussions about their sexuality, this is a film more about what makes us human as opposed to anyone’s sexual orientation.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
Where We Go From Here is currently streaming on Hulu and is available on VOD at the usual online outlets.