People rarely wish to be defined by their teenage years; in his fourth feature film Fourteen, Dan Sallitt continues his exploration of tight-knit relationships with a friendship anchored in a middle-school alliance. Now in young adulthood, Mara (Tallie Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) are in vastly different places from then and from each other, and yet their friendship remains a constant. It is left to the viewer to decide if this is a positive thing in their lives.
From Mara and Jo’s first on-screen interaction, this friendship exudes veracity; Sallitt’s script drops viewers right in the middle of their organic relationship without extraneous explanation or backstory, which immediately establishes audience belief in the women’s connection. Medel captures Mara’s genuine fondness for her friend that goes against her pragmatic outlook, causing tangible frustration for her and the audience. Kuhling heightens this frustration by encapsulating a charismatic, self-destructive restlessness with a vulnerability that makes Jo both exasperating and achingly sympathetic.
The story’s naturalistic framing contributes to the verisimilitude, possibly to a fault. The passage of time between each vignette, often bookended by telephone calls between Mara and Jo (or someone on Jo’s behalf), varies greatly and is defined only by Mara and Jo’s experiences of them – boyfriends, jobs, and Brooklyn apartments are exchanged with barely a mention. The pacing loses momentum in the second act and never quite recovers by the inevitable conclusion, but this truthful, unglamorous portrait of two women’s diverging modes of survival in modern America retains its potency.
Fourteen treats a modern friendship’s depth, dysfunction, and ever-changing dynamics as romantic or familial relationships are more often treated in cinema: with immense, non-judgemental compassion for its subjects and a reverence towards their bond. While hampered by uneven pacing, the film’s well-drawn characters will stick with viewers beyond the credits.
CAST: Tallie Medel, Norma Kuhling, Lorelei Romani, C. Mason Wells, Dylan McCormick
DIRECTOR: Dan Sallitt
WRITER: Dan Sallitt
SYNOPSIS: The bond between two Brooklyn women, friends since middle school, changes as their own professional and personal lives diverge.