By Lauren Simpson | Drama
A woman's night out with her new boyfriend takes an unexpected turn.

Andi is riding with her new boyfriend Ben, and they’re out to get pick up some takeout. As they drive, they talk and seem to enjoy one another’s company.

But on a detour to get some ice cream in addition to their Thai food, Ben delivers some news that doesn’t sit well with Andi. She is forced to face the reality of their situation and must either speak up for herself or lose the relationship.

This short relationship drama — directed by Lauren Simpson and written by co-stars Haley Rawson and Taylor Miller, who play Andi and Ben, respectively — is a “snapshot” kind of film, capturing a conversation between two people in a car on one seemingly ordinary night. It begins almost like a typical romance, but as the film progresses, it gives voice to a deeper melancholy and anger underlying its low-key appearances of amiability.

Narrow and focused in its narrative scope, the film possesses a muted, darkly naturalistic visual style that adds to the offhand, casual atmosphere of the film, along with the warm banter between the couple at the story’s beginnings. This relaxed, “chill” look is echoed in Andi’s demeanor, especially since the couple enjoys each other’s company, and actors/co-writers Rawson and Miller have terrific rapport. Ben compliments Andi on being a cool girl, which is something she seems to appreciate.

Yet that persona begins to crack a little, as Ben reveals that their viewpoints on their shared romantic situation are further apart than Andi thought. The dialogue and performance travel this terrain with great perceptiveness, tracing a schism that grows into a chasm as details fall into place. Andi and Ben begin the story aligned and seemingly on the same page — at least, in Andi’s eyes. But then she realizes that appearances are not what they seem, and how she chooses to address that gap is the crux of the film’s drama.

At this point, the craftsmanship also unfurls a more meditative and sophisticated series of strategies to put us in Andi’s subjectivity. Especially smart use of sound and a shift in camerawork capture Andi’s disassociation as Ben begins to “spin” the situation, and she gets distracted by the sight of another couple having a heated, almost violent argument nearby.

The juxtaposition seems to set off an internal revelation for Andi, and forces her to see — and maybe address — her true thoughts to Ben. Rawson here especially captures this troubling moment with precision and thoughtfulness, and she delivers a pointed, powerful statement to Ben — one that may be relatable and perhaps empowering to many.

More subversive than it initially seems, “Drive-Thru” doesn’t let the audience, or Andi, have such an easy release valve. Its ending could be read as a twist on the page, but in the end, it sadly feels all too realistic, especially in a world where stifling our voices to find love, acceptance and belonging can be par for the course. Ultimately, “Drive-Thru” achieves an unsettling resonance, by bringing to life both the twisted games that make up modern dating, and the silencing of needs to fulfill both societal pressures and our longings for love. The price of that silence, though, is in how small and unworthy we feel, and how little we gain for it.

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