If you have ever wondered what a love story between unlikable classmates from your high school who reunited later in life might be like, “Write When You Get Work” is here to answer your questions. Screening at the Philadelphia Film Festival’s 27th iteration, “Write When You Get Work” marks Stacy Cochran’s fourth turn at the helm of a feature as both writer and director. While the performances are strong, you may find it increasingly difficult to identify with any of the characters as the story churns on.
Ruth Duffy (played by Rachel Keller) and Jonny Collins (Finn Wittrock) were once high school sweethearts who have lost touch after a decision they made following an unexpected pregnancy that set them on very different paths. This rather important backstory is never really fleshed out; shown instead in brief, ambiguous flashbacks. Now, Ruth works at a prestigious all-girls school in New York City and Jonny gets by as a coat checking thief at a nightclub.
Following the death of a former high school coach and caretaker (again, we are given only a vague idea of why this person is so important that Ruth would leave a board meeting in which she is being accused of racism to bring his widow flowers), Jonny steals Ruth’s address and breaks into her home. Perhaps the most off-putting part of this scene is that Ruth appears less horrified and more exhausted by Jonny’s flagrant disregard for boundaries. This is a recurrent theme throughout “Write When You Get Work,” and one that can wear down viewers who are frustrated by Jonny’s immature and stalker-like approach to reconnecting with his one-time love.
By the end of the film, Jonny and Ruth’s relationship has been rekindled following a heist of sorts that leaves Ruth’s school ready to help disadvantaged applicants and Jonny able to setup a fund for the child he and Ruth had in their teens. It’s a too-neat bow following a romantic reunion that feels forced and unearned. As Jonny and Ruth makeout in a stairwell, it’s difficult to understand what she sees in him at all. His turn toward righteousness at the end of the film is revealed nonchalantly over lunch, as if to cauterize the wounds he’s made previously through his callous and selfish actions.
Emily Mortimer’s frantic and haughty housewife, Nan, may be the best part of the movie. When she finally gets, in a sense, her comeuppance, it’s difficult not to grin and enjoy watching her swallow her pride and accept the reprieve she’s been given. Ultimately, none of the characters in “Write When You Get Work” are really likable, and if that’s the point, then perhaps it’s a triumph. But it’s difficult to sit through a film when you don’t have anyone to root for. And watching Jonny stalk through Ruth’s life is nothing less than exhausting, with a non-existent payoff when his convoluted plan is finally revealed.
“Write When You Get Work” is slated for a limited release on November 23rd.