To divvy out one’s time responsibly and productively is a nagging and ongoing challenge for anybody. For young creatives engaged in a 48-hour film challenge, this fact is exemplified, the plates being spun many, the obstacles varied and great. In its narrative exploration of Christine Miserandino’s ‘Spoon Theory’ though, This is ME, may have found the perfect narrative metaphor for its pressing time restraints. Outlining Miserandino’s theory - an apt comparison between the creative allocation of time necessary for those suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), and the use of teaspoons as a measurement of energy expenditure - the film takes an unflinching approach to its subject matter. Here, smartly used editing techniques and a performance that belies its lead actress’s relative inexperience are the hallmarks of a truly exciting piece of short cinema.
We follow Ally, a young woman with stresses and concerns recognisable to many, namely, limited job prospects and overbearing family members. Though, here, there is one major difference: Ally has ME. In a cleverly used script, we come across common stereotypes concerning the debilitating illness, whilst also being introduced to more insightful and lesser-discussed aspects of the illness, including Spoon Theory.
In a day-in-the-life style drama, Ally attempts to overcome the hurdle of an upcoming job interview, one we learn she has already been forced to miss once, as ME makes yet another heartless intrusion upon her plans. Throughout the film, its sense of structuring is strong, with inventive approaches to chronology serving to reinforce the story’s themes. Vital exposition is laid early and effectively, with a quick voicemail from Ally’s prospective employers, giving us all we need to know about the severity of her illness. The easy naturalism of this opening segment boasts of a director skilled at getting the most from his cast. A well-executed sound design really helps draw us into the narrative world, as does a well-utilised fish-eye lens, giving us some perspective on Ally’s individual worldview.
Writer/director, Josh Pickup, does well to recognise the adaptability of Spoon Theory as a narrative device. As a visual motif it is strong and, as a narrative waypoint for viewers largely naïve of the effects of the illness, it is a useful and time-effective piece of exposition. Watching Ally symbolically divide up her energy, laying spoons out under cards with household tasks written on them, really drives home to the audience how sapping such run-of-the-mill chores can truly be.
If a criticism were to be found, it may in fact come through the slight over usage of its key prop. Near the end of the piece, energy fully depleted, Ally lays exhausted. The kindness of strangers gives her a much-needed boost, as small children arrive to check on her, each wielding their own wooden spoons. As a message speaking to the importance of support networks and collective strengths, it is a little on the nose. This is especially true as mere moments later we get the same tool used again, though in subtler fashion as the children’s mother gifts Ally rejuvenating water, whilst sporting a bracelet adorned with silver spoons. Only one of these two moments were required, and a slightly more critical approach to the script may have seen one of these two moments left on the cutting room floor.
Carefully overseen by accomplished writer/director (and ME sufferer), Josh Pickup, This is ME speaks with heartfelt integrity. For it to have been the product of a 48-hour film challenge is truly astounding, and raises the question: Just how good could it have been, were it able to have been done within a more flexible timeframe? With impressive professional acumen observable across each aspect of production, this is a project borne of hard work and graft, a project made without the aid of a silver spoon in its mouth.
'This is ME' was a film considered for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.