Anyone who has ever had a long-term friendship break-up has understood that finally making sure things are over can feel like a matter of life and death. What about the parts of yourself that are embedded in your loved ones, though? This is one of many things Dipsomaniac, a short film directed by Jeremy Stewart, highlights. In the sixteen-minute short, two polar opposites, Hal (writer and executive producer Danny Zuhlke) and Tim (Ben Rosenthal), come together to celebrate Hal’s birthday on a party bus operated by Raine (Sue Shaheen), a deadpan driver attempting to make ends meet. Hal continues to egg Tim on, encouraging drinks and debauchery, and Tim stews with resentment and frustration, until the two’s frustrations with each other reach a breaking point.
Dipsomaniac is its most interesting when it delves into the inherent mismatch and simultaneous unity between Tim and Hal as characters. It is often confusing the relationship the two young men have. They don’t seem to have enough in common to be recent friends, but there is a sense of responsibility Tim seems to feel towards Hal that feels begrudgingly brotherly. No matter the case, something is fragmented here, as demonstrated verbally and stylistically with glitches that pop up from time to time in the bright purple, neon-soaked party bus interior and a lack of clarity about whose birthday it actually is. The argumentative, “dare ya!” way in which Hal and Tim communicate tends to reveal the overlaps between the two. Tim harasses Hal about the “losers that drink all day and ignore their problems” despite the fact that he’s at this party, too. Hal says what he actually really wanted to do for his twenty-seventh birthday “is spend it with [Tim]”. There is a fundamental inability between the two to communicate in any real way, which inhibits any possibility for growth for these two man-children.
Where the film struggles to implement this is through direction and style. Techniques like title cards that label different “chapters” in the short open doors of thought, but bear little, if any, significance to the characters or the story as a whole. The wide frames work well for the more comedic elements of the film (the two men wrestling each other amateurishly is a standout) but make other moments feel tonally unstable and not quite as compelling.
The film is well cast, with each actor fitting nicely into the role assigned to them. Zuhlke is a mischief-maker, with a nasty sort of wildness in Hal’s eyes that grows with each proposition he makes. Rosenthal’s weedy, weepy Tim drips with embittered self pity at every turn. Shaheen is a particular standout, despite having the smallest amount of screentime between the three, with an intermission of sorts entitled “Raine’s Interlude” proving to be one of the most compelling moments in the film. The section lets Shaheen and Luisa Lee, playing an equally charming and curious stripper, flirt and fire digs at one another in a way that makes the brief pause from the goings on of the party feel like the beginning of a rom-com. It’s also one of the only moments in the film that makes the audience feel as if there is a true human connection happening.
Despite occasional technical and tonal difficulties, Dipsomaniac has a handle on its style of comedy, and opens many interesting character threads that would be interesting to see fleshed out. When its silliness is leading, the short is very watchable and is an intriguing look into a friendship that has long since soured – all from within the individuals who are a part of it.