Disfluency stands as one of the biggest film festival surprises of the year for me so far. I am not sure why my expectations were so low, but the story sucked me in almost immediately. Writer/director Anna Baumgarten crafts a film that feels as deeply personal and cathartic to watch as it no doubt was for Baumgarten to make. These types of stories are so important to be told, as too often we try to simply sweep trauma under the rug as if it will never reappear again.
As an opening narration tells us, “disfluency” is described as “natural interruptions to the flow of speech,” and it takes some time for this title to expand to the proper meaning. Our lead character, Jane (Libe Barer, Ready Player One, I See You), has flunked out from college, and is having recurring nightmares of the incident that caused her academic downfall. Back home at her parent’s lake house and surrounded by familiarity, Jane is having trouble coming to terms with the horrible trauma of her experiences. In order to graduate and maintain that single remaining college credit, Jane has to complete an extra-credit assignment that may take every remaining ounce of her vulnerability.
Almost immediately, Jane runs into her former friend Amber, and offers to babysit, as Amber has a young son with speech issues. Being a communications major, a dynamic relationship is formed between Amber and Jane as the latter strives to help the former connect with her son by teaching sign language. Jane is constantly haunted by the event that happened to her at college, and as it begins to bleed into her everyday existence, she finds it inescapable. A former fling, the very cute and very interested Jordan (Dylan Arnold, Halloween Kills, Netflix’s You), is among the many that begin to hang out with Jane as a sort of “neighborhood reunion” prompted by Jane’s sister, Lacey (Ariela Barer, Hulu’s Runaways). Jordan draws closer to Jane, but her secret bubbles to the surface violently and unexpectedly.
The trauma that derailed her academic career also appears to threaten Jane’s personal life. Disfluency takes ample time when it comes to revealing the vital secret that has caused Jane to retreat into herself, and it is executed with the utmost sense of respect. One gets the sense that the topics discussed are significant to the creative team, and I truly think they should be proud of the final product. A hopeful, emotional ending reminds the viewer that healing from trauma is a never-ending process, and that one size almost never fits all. The only way to move forward is by embracing what happened in your own way, both acknowledging one’s trauma, and placing the blame not on the victim but on the perpetrator. Disfluency is a sobering reminder that even in the face of horror, the will to rise above can still triumphantly prevail.
Disfluency screened at the 2022 Cleveland International Film Festival.