If you’re about to enter into a negotiation, there are some important rules to follow. You should be well prepared, have a concise agenda, and in the delivery of demands, emotion must be stripped away. All the while remaining firmly resolute and refusing to yield on the key points in contention. There is one more crucial component, though. Be an unflinching nine year old girl. But if not possible, let writer/director Mike Doxford’s Non-Negotiable show you how it’s done. An eight minute short where you won’t be disappointed, and you may even be able to apply what you learn.
The film begins in a local diner, where a Mom (Jill Winternitz) is feverishly putting a crayon to the children’s place holder. The mic in close proximity, the distinct sound of the determined scrawl lets us know how close Kat is to the edge.
Not all bad, her husband Jay (Samuel Anderson) is endearingly attentive and tries to calm her. “Don’t worry, it’s going to be fine,” he counters.
Anderson’s delivery sounds overly optimistic as though he’s trying to convince himself. But Mom stays the course. “Don’t show weakness, she’ll use that against us,” Winternitz’s angst exasperates our situation.
In serious wait beyond the fourth wall, we almost tremble at the stonewall who’s about to put the screws to this desperate couple. The juxtaposition then plays magically as Deb (Izabella Dziewanska) emerges, and we see she is the force behind her parent’s fear. “Hello Father. . . Mother,” she interjects. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
So assured, the young actress oozes condescension and puts us back on our heels too. As a result, believing our eyes and ears is no easy task.
Sleight of hand or not, Dziewanska comes off as a high powered British lawyer wielding a class-action suit against her helpless parents, and despite the tiny vessel she occupies, “size doesn’t matter” totally fails to address her presence. On the other hand, parents all over the world probably take solace in the fact that they don’t have to go up against this little girl.
Of course, we aren’t without empathy, and there’s no turning away. But what has brought this picturesque family to such a serious crossroad?
Mom and Dad are having a baby, and their only was not consulted in advance. Well, that’s simply her first bullet point, and any attempt to redirect falls prey to the enunciation powers of Dziewanska.
So armed with the power of the internet, the detriment to her development cannot be denied, and since even Deb knows there’s no sending the baby back, concessions are forthcoming. “They are Non-Negotiable,” she demands.
A dog for one and ice cream whenever she wants, Dziewanska’s tempered naivete reveals there’s still a little girl in there. Not so much that we are able to put aside the childlike logic that suffices pretty well for the real thing.
A chess match nonetheless, but the camera work makes the back-and-forth feel more like tennis. Camera one first facing Deb, she serves, and then camera two gets the red light so her parents can receive. The Emmalie El Fadli edits makes for a pretty long rally, and any tennis fan knows how the anticipation builds in wait of an outcome.
Even so, there are still two grownups in the room, and the opposing ways they play off Deb triangulates the laughs. First, Dad is completely smitten with his daughter, and Anderson’s playful joy gives us a father who can’t help seeing her willfulness as a trait to rejoice in. So he’s more easily able to get down on her level and not be encumbered by her 57 conditions.
But having Dad in her court isn’t where rubber meets the road, and all three know it. The outcome hinges on the mother-daughter dynamic, and while initially unsettled by Deb’s unrelenting nature, Winternitz masterfully switches gears.
The segue the actress employs allows her character to gain the upper hand and give Deb the space to transition back to the child she is. In turn, the real issue is heartwarmingly brought to the fore. Her actual needs as a child now negotiated to the fullest, Deb can resume as a little girl again, and all the laughs aside, it’s the tears of joy. . . that are going to get you.