“You’re always only pleasantly entertained, and never provoked into actual laughter or real emotional connection”
Say My Name begins as you might expect. Two strangers are getting hot and heavy in a hotel room, when the woman asks the man to do as the title suggests. Unfortunately, he hasn’t a clue what her name is, despite his best efforts to remember it with a mnemonic. The thing is, as the film goes on and we get to know this illustrious female character a little better, it seems even she can’t quite decide what to call herself either.
This one-night-stand-gone-wrong is between Lisa Brenner’s character – let’s call her Mary, her moniker of choice when we first meet her – and Nick Blood’s Statton, a much easier name to recall. They’re in the middle of a tiff about Statton’s blunder when, randomly, two robbers force their way into their hotel room, hold them at gunpoint and take their belongings. And so begins a long night of panic, police stations and partying as the two try to reclaim their stolen items, as well as learn a lot about each other along the way.
The script is written by comedian and podcaster Deborah Frances-White, and it has her style stamped all over it. There’s witty, pacy dialogue that has a boisterous authenticity resemblant of her stand-up, complex female characters, and she even has a small cameo. Anyone familiar with her work and her own personal story will see the resonance with Mary’s past as it’s revealed to us, and the request from the film’s title becomes less of a component of dirty talk, and more the backbone of this woman’s search for her identity.
The contrast between the two leads is palpable; a classic ‘odd couple’ which acts a good setup for humour. Mary is spontaneous and brave, with a wild and adventurous past and ever-shifting sense of self, whereas Statton is mostly nervous and anxious, a man who has never left the island he was born on and can’t let go of his failed marriage. She reinvents herself constantly to never waste a moment; he is trapped inside the most dull version of himself, watching his life pass him by. Whilst the two have a natural chemistry, nicely articulated in the script as ‘a lighthouse and an ocean’, you’re always only pleasantly entertained, and never provoked into actual laughter or real emotional connection.
Split into five chapters, with most taking the form of long scenes in a single location, Say My Name feels more like a play than a movie – and perhaps it would find a more impactful home on the stage than the screen. When it does let each scenario play out in real time is when it feels at its tightest – but as the world unfurls and expands, with a never-ending number of peripheral characters chucked into the mix, you soon start to lose interest.
The episodic nature of Say My Name adds an intriguing element to a film that’s otherwise fairly generic in terms of direction and visual flair. There’s some particularly pleasing moments – the shots through the partition of a confession booth will make you sit up and take notice – but overall the filmmaking feels more at the level of a mainstream TV movie than a piece of independent cinema.
Though Say My Name might just about make you smile, its lasting impact is that of Mary’s name on Statton when they first meet – you’ll have a hard time remembering it a few hours later.
Dir: Jay Stern
Script: Deborah Frances-White
Prod: Lisa Brenner, Phillip M. Goldfarb
Cast: Lisa Brenner, Nick Blood, Celyn Jones, Mark Bonnar
SAY MY NAME is available On Demand from 10th February 2020