Down the Middle

By David Fickas | Comedy
An uptight workaholic teams up with the CEO's daughter. But they don't get along.

Rex is having his 65th birthday, and Karen and Herschel, his friends and co-workers at the ad agency he runs, have arrived. Rex's woo-woo daughter Aurora also arrives, making for a strange clash of sensibilities and styles.

At the party, Rex makes an announcement. He's retiring, and he's going to take a trip around the world. To do that, he makes the bohemian trust fund baby Aurora and the uptight workaholic Karen partners in the agency. The pair don't like one another, but Rex counsels them to give the experiment a week. That week is a bumpy ride, as the two learn to work together and learn from one another.

Directed by David Fickas from a script co-written with Brice Beckham, this short comedy (created by Michelle Barton and Heather Dowling, who both also co-star in the leads) is an entertaining "odd couple" story, in which two women with very different worldviews and sensibilities must work together on a common enterprise. There's a bright, buoyant energy in the storytelling and visuals, with rat-a-tat pacing in setting up the situation and characters. After shaking up each character's baseline, the result is a fizzy, fun cocktail that goes down easy, but not without a little memorable tartness.

The story works in broad strokes, but it's all well-done and solidly accomplished, from the polished cinematography to the writing to the performances. It finds moments of sharp humor in poking fun at Aurora's touchy-feeling hippie goddess persona and Karen's neurotic demeanor, but it allows both characters unexpected dimensions as they're forced to interact more closely. As they work together, Karen reveals a goofy crush on a former client, while Aurora has more insight than given credit for.

As Aurora and Karen, Barton and Dowling have a fun, even scrappy dynamic, as both find their equilibrium with one another and figure out who's really in charge. They know when to scrap and snap at one another, but their verbal sparring has an engaging rhythm that's akin to classic screwball comedy -- and might reveal that they are more in sync with one another than they thought.

Entertaining and enjoyable to watch, "Down the Middle" ends when the characters are just beginning to appreciate one another, and we're left wanting to see Aurora and Karen's relationship evolve even more. The narrative is meant as a springboard to a series, which would nicely expand the relationship between the women (and explore some promising side stories that are hinted at in the short.) As it stands, it's a promising entry into a tradition of stories, where we find more in common than we thought with those who are different from us -- and find strength and even joy when we embrace and even celebrate those differences.

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