Five From Thirty

By Nathan Miller | Drama
A young man meets a famous actor, who challenges his definition of success.

Darnell is a young Londoner who has just turned 25 in the summer of 2019. As he contemplates his life so far, he struggles with feelings of inadequacy and underachievement as he reckons with the distance of where he is and where he thinks he should be.

While working at his job in the lobby of a boutique hotel, Darnell makes the acquaintance of a successful actor currently rising to prominence and celebrated all around the world. But as their rapport deepens, Darnell's preconceived ideas of success are challenged.

Written and directed by Nathan Miller, this stylish and thoughtful short drama captures a young man grappling with a sense of success passing him by. He works all day in a luxurious boutique hotel, watching the well-to-do come and go, while he struggles to find direction and stay afloat. He's immersed in images and experiences of wealth and luxury, but he has barely a penny to his name.

Fitting to a film about success, achievement and class disparity, the visuals have a sleek sophistication, with a polished gleam in the cinematography and a certain smoothness in the camerawork. The opening shots begin with sweeping overhead shots of London and then lands on a man enjoying his music while driving a nice car. The car pulls up next to a bus stop, and we land on the real main character as he waits in resignation for the bus. The contrast between the haves and have-nots is clear -- and the have-not also clearly notices the sting of the gap, and envies those more seemingly prosperous than him.

The storytelling carefully layers images and sounds to put viewers in Darnell's headspace, which is full of preoccupations with success and his own perceived lack of it. And even though it's his birthday and he's looking down the barrel at age 30, he questions just what he's doing with himself and how he will ever get to the next level.

Actor Tola Teriba plays Darnell with a weightiness and resignation, and he ably conveys the inner life of his character and also how it distances him from his actual life. But Darnell's encounter with a successful actor at his hotel is really where the film coalesces in both theme and emotional arc, with the aid of a brief but evocative performance by actor Michael Akinsulire as the successful star Darnell meets. Akinsulire has an edginess at first that we could first write off as a star's wariness. But as he connects with Darnell for a moment, he reveals an undertow of melancholy -- one that haunts Darnell and causes him to rethink his definition of success.

"Five From Thirty" ends with a set of aspirational images, but this time the glamour and glitz don't match with the reality. The images are seductive in their promise, but we also know how hollow and illusionary they are. It's a lesson that Darnell mulls over with the last revelation of the narrative, and seems apropos in a world inundated with visuals and stories of "inspiration." We are invited, too, to question what's valuable about life and what it means to be successful. The film doesn't offer any suggestions, but it does encourage us to interrogate the tidy narratives about it around us and not let these rob us of the blessings of the present moment -- which often don't reveal themselves except in retrospect when they've passed.

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