By Zach Woods | Drama
A little girl has a birthday dinner with her father that she'll never forget...

A father is taking his daughter Maddie out for her birthday, enjoying dinner at a local restaurant. They're enjoying their time together and playing a sweet game of "rose, thorn, bud" when their celebration is interrupted by a woman taking their photo of the pair on their phone.

But that's not the only way their dinner is disrupted. As much as Dad wants to ignore the interruptions, they keep escalating, hinting at a larger controversy embroiling him. And as try as he might, the father can't shield his young daughter from what's he done, or the fallout that's emerged from it.

Directed by "Silicon Valley" and "The Office" star Zach Woods from a script co-written with Brandon Gardner, this thoughtful short dramedy is a portrait of a family at a moment of a hidden crisis coming out into the open. Weaving together familial sweetness with almost satirical absurdity, it balances dark comedy with moments of quiet devastation, achieving an improbable grace and resonance.

Visually and emotionally, there's a fundamental warmth in the portrayal of the father-daughter relationship, shot with seemingly cozy intimacy and economy. But there's also a dark somberness in the cinematography that hints at a darker, more grown-up narrative current, one that seeps into what should be a carefree, happy moment in a young girl's life.

Actor Michael Pena (from "Narcos: Mexico" and the "Ant-Man" movies) plays the father with genuine love and affection, but young performer Everly Carganilla (recently from Netflix's "Yes Day") is the heart of the film, playing Maddie with innate intelligence and a winning openness. The storytelling limits the narrative to her point-of-view, and she slowly discovers her father possesses more dimensions than she's aware of at the same time as the audience does. The dialogue carefully lays its trail of information, escalating knowledge and intensity as the stakes for the parent-child pair increase and Maddie begins to realize the enormity of the situation around her.

The climax of "Bud" explodes into a confusing, heated swirl of chaos and emotional violence, and the sensitive, perceptive camerawork and editing devolve into a flurry of fractured tension. Father and daughter find themselves in a torrent of outrage, captured right down to the keen, eager onlookers capturing it all on their phones and a seemingly well-meaning grown-up whose intervention only adds to the young girl's confusion and fear. Within the visual and emotional turmoil, the scene remains anchored in the perspectives of the young children caught in the middle of it all. As the adults around them scream and shout in both defensiveness and self-righteousness, they've lost all awareness of the kids watching them -- the very children who are learning from their words and actions.

The final scene of "Bud" is, by contrast, quiet and focused. But it's not at all peaceful, with a little girl who can't quite make sense of it all, but who knows that something is troubling enough to roil her emotions and her sense of safety and security. She -- and the audience -- never quite learns what her dad has specifically done. But we know some fundamental innocence is lost, made all the more heartbreaking for the quiet subtlety of its passing amid the tumult.

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