What Happened Was

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It is obvious from the beginning that these two are going to have a hard time. Miscommunication runs rampant, signals and cues crossed, faltering conversation. Issue 71, November 1994

It’s getting kinda weird out there in the world of dating. Maybe it’s always been so, but I get the feeling things are getting worse. If you are me, the reasons are rooted in the sped-up evolution of our society. As our world becomes more complex, so do we. Individuals are harder to define for there is now an ever-increasing number of niches for people to fill, mixing and matching influences and pursuits to create a patchwork identity. Finding an appropriate better-half has therefore become harder as well. In fact, it can be difficult, risky or downright dangerous.

Difficult because after the nihilistic bender society went on in the ‘70s and ‘80s most people have a hard time putting up with the quirks and foibles of prospective lovers; risky because these days, people don’t spend several years getting to know someone before making the plunge into a relationship and often get surprised down the road when true natures reveal themselves. It’s dangerous because people can turn on you and become the most horrific of monsters.

First dates are usually the strangest. Occasionally, they can become downright frightening. Take the case of Jackie and Michael, the characters developed in the new film What Happened Was. Jackie is an “executive assistant” (read: secretary) at the same law firm as Michael, a paralegal. Their work allows them to form a casual, friendly relationship which changes dramatically when Jackie decides to ask Michael over for dinner. 

It is obvious from the very beginning that these two are going to have a hard time. Miscommunication runs rampant, signals and cues crossed, faltering conversation – these two seem to have very little in common. Eventually it turns out they have two things in common. Number one, they both have dreams of having their writing published. Jackie says she writes “children’s stories,” while Michael is “working on an expose of the legal system.” You need to see the flick to find out more about the eventually revealed truth, but I will say Jackie’s reading of one of her stories is a pivotal, Lynchian moment that you may never forget. The other item they have in common is that they are both terribly dysfunctional, maladjusted casualties of modern society.

This film is billed as a comedy about “the first date from hell,” and that is one of its aspects. There are indeed some very funny, if awkward, moments. However, its undercurrents of alienation, insecurity and emotional self-defense make What Happened Was a haunting and thoughtful experience as well. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and starring Tom Noonan and Karen Sillas, What Happened Was is a post-modernist exploration of a bleak emotional wasteland. I highly recommend it, but do not go to the film on a first date! —Ima Mess

Read more film reviews:
Movies and Video: 1993
They’re Dead… They’re All Messed Up!