The Mirror Game, directed by William J. Stribling, is an energizing and thoughtful drama/comedy adapted from writer Marissa Flaxbart’s play A Mere Conception. The film, shot during the Covid pandemic across five nights in a Las Vegas hotel room, is scintillatingly written and performed. The Mirror Game centers around a reunion between two childhood friends, Rose (Teya Patt) and Abe (Michael Tennant), now in their thirties, who visit Las Vegas at the same time to attend separate bachelor and bachelorette parties, but instead choose to meet with each other. During the night, Rose asks a life-changing favor of Abe. This starts an unexpected conversation that peels back layer upon layer of bravado, ego and insecurity. The Mirror Game is both intimate and insightful, driven by chemistry which bursts beyond the walls of the hotel room.
The film uses the single location of the hotel room with exceptional creativity and poise. The tight space, which could easily become restrictive and repetitive, is always full of energy and character. The glow of the Las Vegas lights invades the ambience of the room, a reminder of the chaos Rose and Abe have escaped from, and there is a comforting use of soft light that adds to the feeling of the room as an enclave or a shelter from the complexities and disappointments of adult life. While the film doesn’t totally escape relevant comparisons to other films with minimal locations that center around two characters conversing about life, relationships and philosophy (such as Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy or Alexandre Lehmann’s Blue Jay), the film does enough to distinguish itself.
The film’s success hinges on its writing and performances, both of which are unique and brimming with candidness and individuality. The chemistry between Patt and Tennant is electric. Both actors bring such a distinctive personality to their roles, even down to their style of delivery, mannerisms and use of language. For a story that rests heavily on the power of reminiscing, the performances always feel genuine and the memories authentic. With no location changes or complex sets to distract the viewer, the strain put on both actors is made to look almost impossibly effortless.
The writing, by Marissa Flaxbart, is punchy as we instantly access the private humor of Rose and Abe, the back-and-forth banter and call-back jokes between them. Though the conversations can feel quite theoretical at times, particularly in the second half of the film, it doesn’t feel entirely out of bounds for either character. They both come off as well-versed in philosophy and gender politics, capable of crass humor and careful conceptualisation in equal measure.
The Mirror Game handles its tonal shifts well. The film moves through a wide-range of topics in a relatively tight runtime, doing justice to the overwhelming majority of them. Of note, the film tackles loneliness and isolation as an adult, natalism and anti-natalism, the pressure to be desirable and relational responsibility. The film is dense in its themes, encouraging conversations between Rose and Abe which more than fill the space provided. They are both neurotic and self-aware but paradoxically blind and stubborn. As they jump around from topic to topic, possibility to possibility, situation to situation, we follow them ourselves: thinking about the friendships we let slide and the risks we took that we wish we hadn’t. A low-level anxiety encapsulates the viewing experience, emanating from the minds and bodies of the two protagonists.
The Mirror Game is a superb example of less being undeniably more. The film works within its limitations superbly, excelling on the page and in its performances. There is a tangible atmosphere throughout as the pair move beyond nostalgia into a real cross-examination of the past, their friendship and their lives up until this point. The film addresses the wounds and relationships we carry through life: the impact they have on our ability to love and to be loved in return. It is a beautifully healing film.