Dim the Fluorescents
Slamdance Film Festival
Director: Daniel Warth
Talented but struggling actor Audrey (Claire Armstrong) and seemingly no-nonsense, aspiring playwright Lillian (Naomi Skwarna) are Toronto-based friends, roommates and artistic partners. The two are refreshing in their support for one another, but both struggle with feelings of self-doubt and dissatisfaction in their personal careers. Audrey constantly needs validation and emotional support, while Lillian is insecure about her lack of new plays. Neither can find any paying gigs, with one exception—corporate demonstrations—into which Audrey and Lillian pour all of their creative efforts. Audrey acts out the tearful, impassioned monologues that Lillian writes into each script. Their dramatic, minutes-long roleplaying gigs cover topics that range from sexual harassment to workplace safety to customer service. As Audrey and Lillian prepare for each new demonstration, they rapidly volley ideas back and forth, rehearsing together in their shared apartment and testing the creative boundaries of each workplace topic. Soon, the two find themselves under the pressure of the biggest gig of their careers: a seven-minute-long, hotel-conference demonstration, to a 300-person audience, on leadership in times of crisis and change.
Directed by Daniel Warth, Dim the Fluorescents is a smart and polished exploration of two women who have come to a crossroads as friends and artists. With a wry humor and a stylized flair, Warth and fellow writer Miles Barstead bring Audrey and Lillian’s story to life: their absent pet cat, the self-congratulating acquaintances they chat with at the exclusive parties they have to sneak into, the voicemails Audrey receives from casting directors who tell her she didn’t get a part. Fitted with long scenes, on-point characters and justly over-the-top dialogue, Dim the Fluorescents is as imaginative and entertaining as are Audrey and Lillian’s sensational corporate demonstrations.
Armstrong brings a heartfelt performance as the dogged Audrey, while Skwarna brings a subtlety to the pragmatic but hardworking and hopeful Lillian. Additional notable performances include Andreana Callegarini-Gradzik as Fiona, a bright teen but incompetent actor who joins Audrey and Lillian’s hotel-conference production, much to their chagrin; Brendan Hobin as Bradley, a corporate employee left star-struck by one of Audrey’s performances; and Clare McConnell as June, whose success as a playwright and artist lends to Lillian’s insecurity.
Funny yet poignant, bittersweet yet encouraging, playful yet purposeful, Dim the Fluorescents is a Slamdance gem. Throughout, Audrey and Lillian are intensely dedicated to their work, their art and their process—and also to each other—despite the ups and downs along the way. From start to finish, the film is an enchanting portrait that rests on a whimsical yet unexpectedly lovely premise: the unlikely places in which we can create art. –Kathy Zhou