by Jason Suzuki
Sometimes a move towards accessibility is not a bad thing. This was the case with The Lobster, which still retained the tone and singularity of Lanthimos' previous Greek-language films, and it most certainly is the case here with Thamrongrattanarit, coming off the artistic successes that were 36 and Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy. His latest Freelance, on its festival run under the name Heart Attack, is an inventive portrait of a workaholic freelance graphic designer that teeters on the verge of rom-com. It features big name stars but strips them down of makeup and melodrama to make them average and real.
Yoon (Sunny Suwanmethanon) spends every waking moment, of which he has a lot since he pushes himself to go days without sleep, on his computer, tinkering away on Photoshop and everything from sunsets to a social life is a waste of time. We get a tour of his worldview and thought process thanks to the needed voice over of a character with his sometimes literally buried in his computer monitor with the help of a tarp. He works as a freelance graphic designer and is constantly on the verge of missing deadlines, coming in at the last minute to finish impossible assignments given to him by his agent Je (an thoroughly deadpan Violette Wautier, known from her stint as a talented contestant on Thailand's The Voice). Yoon doesn't even have time for the funeral of a close friend's father. This doesn't stop him from attending wearing his usual t-shirt (he only wears about five (Nirvana and Sonic Youth adorned) over the course of the film which spans a few months) and pants, holding his laptop, asking his friend, right next to the body of his father, if the temple has wi-fi.
Pretty soon rash bumps start appearing all over his body. Yoon's attempt to treat this ailment, fitting considering his profession, will prove to be a legitimate trial. At a public clinic his case is assigned to a Dr. Imm (Davika Hoorne) who he finds attractive and luring. She tells him to eat better, exercise, and the most egregious: get to bed before 9pm. His attempts to please the cute doctor who he sees only once a month while still being able to work in the cutthroat freelance graphic design world become impossible to Yoon. It's a choice between health and living with nose to the grindstone work and recognition.
The film is an intriguing conundrum in that it is heavily stylized but not so at the same time. Conversations could either be done in a simple and calm two shot or when he does shot reverse shot he lets interesting parts of the listener be shown instead of just shoulder/back of the head. The score is playfully used; when Yoon thinks of Dr. Imm romantic guitar noodlings begin playing, but then abruptly stop once he realizes she's just a doctor he sees once a month. It's a refreshing place for the film to remain. The docu-drama style feels intended and choreographed, but character takes precedent over filmic flourish.
For the workaholic this film is extremely relatable. The social faux-pas and declines in health that come with prioritizing tasks over are depicted in a way that is both fantasy and reality. Thamrongrattanarit's film could become the film about a generational experience. Something that films like Garden State and Frances Ha have been given the title to. But where those films suppose that its the aimlessness and mundanity that define the modern day twenty and thirty somethings, Freelance supposes that it's really the drive, the missed connections, and the hustle that can only be scored by free jazz to be the shared experience. Relatable, accessible yet still inventive, and not going where you always think it will go, this film is a must see at a festival with so much great work to take in.
Heart Attack aka Freelance plays Sunday, July 3 at the New York Asian Film Festival.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.