(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz)
Home is where the heart is… but have you ever thought about which one leads to the other? It is not much different than asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. Psychologists for years have pointed toward a hierarchy of needs that says one must prioritize home and security over love. But in a first-world society with a roof above your head, might it be worth it to follow your heart—especially in the face of uncertainty? Chestnut is a simple coming of age film that asks these very questions and more. Using a character who finds herself at a crossroads as she learns more about herself, she must choose between solace and success.
Chestnut takes on the point of view of our protagonist, Annie (Natalia Dyer), who wakes up in the afternoon to a phone call from her dad. He congratulates her on graduating college and wishes her luck with her move to Los Angeles. She goes out to drink alone that night at a local bar, where Tyler (Rachael Keller) strikes up a conversation that lasts throughout the night. Despite her introverted nature, Annie reaches out to Tyler again the next day. Things grow more intimate the next night, and they end up kissing. It turns out, navigating her feelings for Tyler isn’t as simple as she hopes. Annie is later told by Danny (Danny Ramirez), a man who also seems to have a close relationship with Tyler, not to “overthink” things with her. As Annie and Tyler continue on with their relationship, Annie starts to contemplate not moving to LA, despite a promising job on the line. Going against the grain of life, things grow more emotionally and romantically confusing for Annie over the course of the run time.
If there is one word to describe Chestnut, it would be “personal.” I appreciate how so many aspects of the production paid conscious attention to letting Annie’s thoughts and feelings flow through the screen to the audience’s understanding with ease. The camerawork, for instance, mostly opts to use close handheld shots. While it feels chaotic at times, it is a great fit for the rambunctious nightlife setting the film takes on, and allows for the viewer to feel more present in Chestnut’s world as a whole, versus being a spectator to each scene. The music was just as notable for similar reasons, with any of its non-diegetic soundtrack using ambient or drone music. This was a perfect choice of genre for such an emotionally weighted time in Annie’s life. Used sparingly and always in the right moments, luscious pads and synths help us feel as if we are tapping into Annie’s very soul.
What better way to show those tender moments but under colorful, saturated lights? Beautiful pink and blue hues are present in a considerable number of scenes, highlighting the actors’ gentle performances to create a picturesque depiction of their characters’ vulnerabilities. Neon bar lights and bustling party scenes make a great fit for the nightlife setting, and allow for a textbook use of what some cinephiles know as “bisexual lighting.”
Dyer’s performance manages to further synthesize with the overall vision, taking on a less theatrical approach that favors underacting over overacting. All the while, she still manages to wholly reflect the visibly taxing weight of her romantic conundrum. Annie’s character feels more like a true introvert than any so-called introverted character I have seen in recent memory. My only qualm was that her character may have been too reserved from a writing standpoint. There were times I felt like the inactivity of her character held the story back from crossing into more interesting territories, with Annie sometimes falling victim to her world. Showing more visible character growth could have strengthened Annie’s identity and helped Chestnut stand out amongst other romantic pictures. A character meant to feel unsure of herself instead appears to be self-restraining when it comes to pivotal moments of dialogue. Perhaps this attributes itself to the quirky title: Chestnut, as Annie proves herself to be a hard nut to crack.
When it comes to creating a personal-feeling story, a conscious relevance to the audience is essential. As a student nearing the end of their college career, I felt the story found immense success in capturing those awkward in-between stages of life, where we find ourselves unsure of what is next to come. Crossing such unfamiliar borders is always unsettling to some extent. One might respond in confusion as Annie does, finding herself lost in love amidst the deceivingly uncompromising party culture defining the lives of many college students. For Annie, it is not the party life that entices her, but a fear of moving on that I am sure we are all familiar with in some capacity. Chestnut is overall successful in capturing those underlying feelings that can hold us back from pursuing what may seem like greener pastures.
While the premise and overall crux of Chestnut is very simple, the film remains very thoughtful and effective in its execution. Intentional and down-to-earth writing combined with a unique approach to Annie’s character allowed for me to feel seen in ways I didn’t expect. While I feel the story holds itself back to a degree, it is very good at what it does. A fitting watch for those who celebrate pride month, you will find yourself swinging with the emotional swoops of Chestnut with Jac Cron’s strong, intimate direction prevailing above all.
Chestnut premieres at the Frameline Film Festival on Thursday, June 15.