Cleveland International Film Festival 2022 review: Anna Baumgarten’s ‘DISFLUENCY’ speaks volumes. #CIFF46

DISFLUENCY

SYNOPSIS:
After unexpectedly failing her final college class due to a traumatic personal event, Jane, an aspiring speech pathologist, retreats home to her parent’s lake house in the hometown she grew up in. Her older sister and friends, as well as an old high school crush, soften the burden of failure, inspiring her to embrace the carefree summer as she tries to sort out what to do next. She also rekindles an old friendship with her neighbor Amber, a single mother with a difficult toddler, utilizing her skills and knowledge to help her connect with her son. Jane, however, fights through PTSD and imposter syndrome as she attempts to piece together what exactly happened in order to unravel the emotional and psychological tangle that’s been haunting her as she finds a path forward toward the never-ending process of healing.


Writer-director Anna Baumgarten has a way with words. In her new film Disfluency, their weight is unfathomable. After flunking her final college course, aspiring speech therapist Jane navigates her next steps at her parent’s lake house. Struggling to reveal her motives for failure, she makes her friends and family her test subjects, studying how others use language. Jane slowly works her way to catharsis over the summer months, wearing every possible emotion on her sleeve. Disfluency is the perfect title for a film that’s bound to captivate a massive audience. Words have power and how we express them is life-changing.

Beautifully grounded performances make you fall for these characters. Discovering that actress Ariela Barer is Libe’s real-life sister makes so much sense now. As Lacy, she is hilarious, and I would be remiss not to mention her. Their chemistry is electric. Don’t assume for one second she only exists for comic relief. Lacy is a catalyst for healing.

PTSD is something that never truly leaves you. As a sexual assault survivor, I can attest to the flashbacks and how my trauma affected my relationships moving forward. It’s a permanent piece of my psyche. I understand why women don’t come forward, even to family. Not until #MeToo became mainstream did I reveal my hurt to family, and even that occurred via social media. Jane’s functionality in Disfluency mimics mine. PTSD is often an unseen burden.

Chelsea Alden‘s portrayal of Amber was also personal to me. From the sadness on her face to the eagerness to learn, I felt that performance and the care Alden brings to Amber. As a Mother of a neurodivergent son now in Kindergarten, his language delay was something I suspected early on. I remember the fear in my body when he failed his initial hearing test in the NICU. In the end, that wasn’t the issue after all. Lucky for us, his pediatrician flagged him at 18 months. Two weeks after his second birthday, he had five days a week of ABA and speech services. Now he’s a thriving, sweet, curious, and brilliant little boy. The screenplay utilizes sign language. Featured in an emotionally climactic scene that tears your heart out, it’s one of this year’s most impactful cinematic moments. 

Libe Barer, as Jane, nails every single beat, working through gaslighting, second-guessing, victim-shaming, depression, anger, and everything in between. The script gives Barer the space to explore all the complexities accompanying trauma. In a breathtaking monologue, Barer says it all, quite literally. It’s a wave of emotional nuance that packs one hell of a punch. 

With tight visual flashbacks and accidental therapy sessions in the form of slick dialogue, Baumgarten provides a conversation starter for many. It’s easy to see why it won Best Narrative Film at Oxford FF. Disfluency tackles the boundless intricacies of communication. It’s a must-see.


Screening information (VIRTUAL):
Sunday, April 10 at 11:00AM
Sunday, April 17 at 11:59PM

Ticketing information:
https://www.clevelandfilm.org/films/2022/disfluency?fbclid=IwAR0J0cyFMWDN56qzc0YXuzE-UtazQi9SWpwlxX_RmgDve9SJyMyxEZ3a6mU

ABOUT THE FILM:
Based on the 2018 award-winning short film, DISFLUENCY just won the 2022 Oxford Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature, which followed last year’s 2021 Austin Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature Film.

Director/Writer:                      Anna Baumgarten
Producers:                    Danny Mooney, Elaine Hastings Edell
Executive Producers:           Ben Wiessner, Jim Cummings, Alex Rudolph, Chicago Media Angels
Editor:                       Kevin Birou
Cinematographer:                 John Fisher
Music:                                     Nathan Alexander
Cast:                         Libe Barer, Ariela Barer, Chelsea Alden, Dylan Arnold,
Travis Tope, Kimiko Singer, Molly Hagan, Ricky Wayne,
Diana De La Cruz, Wayne David Parker
TRT:                                      95 min
Country:                      USA

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.