A Long Beside

By Paul Marcus Wong | Drama
A young woman returns from living abroad, but struggles to connect with her brother.

Kate has returned to her family home in New Zealand, coming from her home and job in London. Making a stop before she arrives at her final destination, her brother Simon picks her up at the airport. Their pair of siblings were formerly close, but have grown more distant as grownups, as their lives have diverged.

Kate's stay with her brother is awkward, and the pair struggle to reconnect. But their conversations only reveal how little they have kept up with each other, as well as their different approaches to success in life. But as their differences assert themselves, a rift opens up between them, putting them farther apart from one another.

Written and directed by Paul Marcus Wong, this short family drama gracefully captures the distance that can happen when brothers and sisters grow up and grow apart. As grown-ups, these siblings have taken sharp turns away from one another. But they are never truly independent of one another, and their paths reflect and refract one another in comparison, altering their dynamic.

The storytelling -- from the observant naturalistic direction to the layered, emotionally astute writing -- is attuned to the inner lives and outer behavior of its characters, particularly Kate. Simon is laconic and awkward, while Kate chats volubly to cover up the awkwardness. Yet their past dynamic -- of the protective older sister and younger brother -- remains. We see their closeness directly in the sweet passages of home footage (with a younger Kate played by a young Thomasin Mackenzie.)

But in the present, that dynamic creates conflict, as Simon now finds himself in a difficult place in life, and Kate's protectiveness comes across as judgmental and condescending to him. Actors Lucy Suttor and Jack Sergent-Shadbolt play the siblings with sensitivity and understatement, and they both capture the awkwardness of their present relationship and the pull of their shared past.

They're able to see the faults and strengths of one another, and they also know just where their most sore and tender points are. When Kate pulls rank as the older sister after a night of Simon's partying, the resulting tension opens up a gap that past affection may not be able to cross.

Gently affecting and understated, "A Long Beside" achieves a compelling relatability due to its understanding of how family history colors us, no matter how far we move in life. It also understands the suffering caused when family relationships put us in a "box," and the resulting roles don't allow for both growth and the struggle that enables it at times. But in the final scene and reveal, the crisp borders between these roles finally dissolve, and Kate and Simon do what siblings can do best for one another: accept and see the whole of who we are, with some teasing on the side.

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