(Written by Allison Brown)
Dillon Tucker’s directorial feature debut Pure O is a miss, both in storytelling and visual execution. The bloated two-hour runtime will leave one checking the time far too often, hoping to be closer to the end. As someone who suffers from mild OCD, I was particularly eager to check out this film. Regrettably, Pure O’s only successful takeaway is that vulnerable viewers are likely to self-diagnose, which is not exactly a constructive feat.
Characters are one-dimensional and seem to only exist to convey the illness of which they suffer. Each appears to be a physical manifestation of the seven deadly sins, but instead of mental affliction. Group therapy sessions, as well as one-on-one therapist meetings, are depicted like a PSA; different classifications of obsessive–compulsive disorder are plainly defined like a medical dictionary. Google searches and shots of Cooper’s phone and computer are overused as well.
Tucker’s storytelling style is lazy; he depends on telling and never shows the audience anything. In a scene where recovering drug addict Rachel (Landry Bender) has an unflattering video from her past leaked online, the information is relayed from one character to another verbally rather than providing a clip to display the events that transpire onscreen. Cooper (Daniel Dorr) has all-consuming obsessive thoughts that play as voice memos on his phone rather than using the opportunity to render the images in his mind like a horror movie. There are so many openings to accurately portray what someone suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder might feel in a similar manner to Florian Zeller’s The Father or 2021 SXSW selection Violet, but Tucker seems to lack any creativity. The only scene in the film that is somewhat unique has shadows from blinds overlayed on the two actors’ faces while revealing their struggles. I assume the director intended this cinematography to visually show a reveal behind the curtain, but the execution could be better. To most viewers, it will probably appear to be solely artsy and distracting.
For a film with a lead character that is a singer, music is not utilized well to portray anxiety and emotion. Tucker resorts to having his characters yell rather than provide a nuanced score. One rehab patient deemed “a lost cause” comes off as a caricature; he is only on screen screaming and flipping furniture. Outdoor scenes have poor cinematography; the highlights are so bright that they are overexposed in some frames. Wardrobe choices are equally odd; Cooper’s fiancé, Emily (Hope Lauren), wears a 1992 Clinton/Gore t-shirt when there is no way she is old enough to have voted then. She would have to be at least 49 years old to be 18 at the time of the election, unless Pure O is intended to have taken place years ago. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case due to the usage of modern iPhones.
The acting could use improvement as well. Cooper is so unrealistically happy towards the end that he appears to be ironically manic and serial-killer-like, when he should be properly expressing his emotions. This may be a fault of the script, rather than Dorr on his own; it is a naïve portrayal of someone grappling with mental illness. People may be better able to manage it, but it doesn’t just disappear as if healed. It is strange that the story is autobiographical because Tucker should be aware of this himself. Character decisions often don’t make sense. An abortion feels impulsive, and implied to be an appalling choice, leading the viewer to think Tucker may be pushing a pro-life agenda.
I really wanted to like Pure O, as Tucker is well-intentioned for the most part, but there unfortunately really aren’t any positive attributes to highlight. At the very least, hopefully someone will be more understanding of those close to them who suffer from purely obsessional obsessive–compulsive disorder.
Pure O premiered at the 2023 South by Southwest Film Festival.