Doesn't Fall Far

By Joshua Michael Payne | Drama
A father and son have a secret that comes to light in the span of an evening.

Carson, his son Garrett and his wife Elsie are sitting down for a late dinner during the holiday season. But they aren't an ideal picture of family togetherness, and the meal is full of complaints, stubborn silences and passive-aggressive comments, though Carson attempts to retain his equanimity through it all.

But he is still dissatisfied and lonely and seeks out a diversion -- one that will unearth a minefield of secrets of both father and son. When they come out into the open, the pair must decide how to move forward in an attempt to salvage their relationship.

Written and directed by Joshua Michael Payne, this short family drama begins with the common situation of a shared meal, revealing the dynamics of the family. The resentment of a son still living rent-free at home, an angry and annoyed mother and a father just trying to keep the peace but unable to find comfort or affection: these are the ingredients of familial tension that threaten to destabilize a barely stable picture.

These are established efficiently and economically in the writing, with a sharp eye for dialogue that is also willing to sustain awkward silences, as characters repress their honest emotions. But then the storytelling shifts into unexpected directions, revealing ironic humor that's hinted at with the schmaltzy holiday music juxtaposed against serious emotional situations. With the mutual discovery of secrets, the emotional temperature heats up, but it also forces father and son to be open and honest with one another for perhaps the first time in their lives.

The storytelling throughout is anchored by a masterful performance by Oscar-nominated actor Eric Roberts, who plays Carson with a weathered air of a man trying to get through life but worn down by complacency and the weight of the secrets he has been carrying. It's a delicate balance of denial, vulnerability, love, guilt and shame, and Roberts's ability to convey Carson's many layers deserves a longer story format to explore the character and his role in the family.

As his son, actor Aaron Latta-Morissette plays Garrett as both rebellious and resentful of his parents but cowed and overwhelmed by his life's challenges. But part of that may be because he's hiding a secret himself. The mutual discovery of one another's secrets bring simmering tensions out into the open, and from there, father and son may reinvent their relationship -- or perhaps lose it altogether.

"Doesn't Fall Far" is full of rich ironies, ones that its storytelling mines for both pathos and humor. Father and son both share a secret, but they go about living around these hidden aspects in different ways. Perhaps those differences can be accounted for via temperament or generation, but they end up having similar results. Both men hold others at bay, unwilling to risk vulnerability or discovery, but they also feel unseen and invisible to the people they love most. The sharing of those secrets could be an opportunity to transform their relationship into a more open, authentic one.

Of course, life isn't that simple, and the ending of the short is quieter, funnier but more emotionally complex than a simple feel-good rapprochement. But it's truer in many ways to how families really operate, asking its members to tiptoe around potentially life-changing truths in service to another member's needs. At least father and son may be on the same side now, navigating the same minefields and trying to avoid the same explosions.

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