Short Film: “Stutterer”

I have a bit of an attachment to this film. “Stutterer”, written and directed by Benjamin Cleary, was submitted to a film festival of which I was a member of the screening committee. I loved it. Of the 100 or so films I screened that year, it was one of the best I had seen. I championed it to the programmers in hopes that they’d agree and add it to the festival’s slate. Alas, the film didn’t make the cut—not because it wasn’t good or deserving. Great films are often rejected from festivals for any number of reasons. Months later, “Stutterer” was nominated for an Oscar, along with one other film I screened for the same festival (which I also championed and was also rejected). “Stutterer” won. (I should start my own damn festival.)

Here’s the brief review I wrote of this film to the festival programmers (spoilers ahead):

A lonely typographer with a debilitating stutter is anxious about finally meeting the woman he’s been exclusively communicating with online for six months. The premise almost makes this film sound like a comedy, but make no mistake, it’s a pretty serious drama with a terrific twist at the end that blew me away. There’s so much to love about this film: the irony of the fact that this man who can barely speak is a typographer, the creative treatment of the title (“S T U T T E R E R”), and the highly effective and exquisite use of narration. It’s often said that narration is a crutch and shouldn’t be used unless it makes sense. I think whoever said that was thinking of this film. Despite the man’s terrible stutter, we’re made privy to his perfectly fluid internal dialogue through the narration as he practices what he wants to say—it just doesn’t come out right. He’s so self-conscious about his speech that he even teaches himself sign language so that he can pretend to be deaf to avoid speaking to people. By the end of the film, we learn that the woman he’s meeting is, in fact, deaf herself (spoiler alert)—a surprise to our protagonist and the audience. She initiated the meeting. She’s not embarrassed by her disability. You have to believe that upon learning of this the man felt pretty foolish. Perhaps what I love most about this film is the fact that it takes an issue like a stutter—something that most people don’t take too seriously—and presents it in a way that I believe represents the horrible feeling of isolation that people who suffer from it likely have. I bet they’d be proud to see a film treating this condition seriously. Love this movie.

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