By Shane Hartline | Drama
A young woman pursues her dream of acting after permanently losing her voice.

Every since Gaby was young, she has always wanted to be an actress, hamming it up in front of cameras and putting on shows. But her dream hits a roadblock when she gets spasmodic dysphonia, a condition that causes uncontrollable spasms in the vocal cords and cuts off her full vocal expressiveness.

The news hampers young Gaby’s dreams, and as she grows into adulthood, she has a hard time finding her footing, even with supportive family and loved ones. She sinks into inertia and anxiety, which worsens when a personal tragedy strikes. But then she gets a unique shot at her dream, which forces her to not give up on herself — and embrace her full self, so-called flaws and all.

Written and directed by Shane Hartline, this warmly relatable short dramedy weaves together a portrait of living with an unusual condition with a journey about pursuing your dreams and embracing your full self. Both narrative strands are woven together with a sensitive, winning performance from lead actor Trilby Glover and a wry sense of humor in the writing.

The film opens with video footage of a young Gaby performing, playing characters and acting out stories. Charming, funny and engaging, the montage is key to understanding Gaby’s innate gift and potential, and its memory hangs over the narrative as it skips over time into Gaby’s adulthood, where she flounders in unfulfilling jobs and hides her condition from others.

With the scope of a feature, the narrative spans a wide swath of Gaby’s life and encapsulates many difficulties in her life. It’s held together by a voiceover that expresses Gaby’s inner reactions and thoughts. While films sometimes over-rely on voiceover to do the heavy lifting of storytelling, it plays a key role here in viewers’ understanding of Gaby’s character. We hear the sarcastic, dry thoughts of a tough-minded young woman in a perfect voice, but onscreen, we see Gaby struggle with expressing herself — not just because of her vocal condition, but from her shame, self-consciousness and embarrassment. The gap is painful for Gaby, and she struggles to express her authentic full self.

Lead actor Trilby Glover captures the difficulty of navigating this gulf, expressing the full spectrum of emotions while never becoming overwrought. That restraint — along with a visual approach that is straightforward and gives breathing room to key images and moments — keeps the film from creeping into treacly territory. Instead, it delivers a consistently engaging, absorbing story and a main character whose condition is a significant — but not the only — defining trait of her self. Instead, Gaby must learn to accept who she is and find her voice in the true sense of the word.

“Cookie” is based on the director’s own experience with spasmodic dysphonia, which has not inhibited him from pursuing a career both in front of and behind the camera. Empathetic and humane, it makes a case for defining ourselves not by our limitations, but by our capabilities and dreams. Gaby’s pursuit to fulfill her talent and express her innermost light isn’t valuable because of the end achievement, but because she summoned the courage to go after it. In doing so, she learns to be who she is without apologies — something that will propel her forward and grow, no matter what life throws at her.

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