Before I was aware of Ryan Eggold as an actor, I actually knew of him first through his music from the 2011 film “Sironia,” a lovely small-scale study of a country singer returning to his roots where Eggold’s vibrant score (co-composed with Wes Cunningham, who inspired the story) did much of the heavy lifting in terms of not only conveying the type of sound that its troubadour was chasing, but how it could envelop him whole and take him to new places, sweeping up the audience along for the ride. As Eggold’s fame has grown as an actor as a regular on “The Blacklist” and a staple of such films in recent years as “Lovesong” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” it’s been easy to forget he’s a man of many talents, but it all came flooding back upon seeing his charming directorial debut “Literally, Right Before Aaron,” which takes a slip of an idea and elevates it to the stuff of great cinema.
There are many moments when Eggold will just let the music take over a scene in “Literally, Right Before Aaron,” but that’s partially because nearly everything is overpowering Adam (Justin Long) when we meet him just after learning that his ex-girlfriend Alison (Cobie Smulders) is getting married after a year-long relationship that came on the heels of their eight years together. Alison has invited Adam to the wedding – even the rehearsal dinner – in the belief the two can still can have a relationship as friends, but as Adam makes his way up to San Francisco for the nuptials, it is clear he’s after something more.
While Long is at his exasperated best in putting on the charade that he’s giving his blessing to the proceedings, literally trying to be a good sport by playing tennis with Alison’s fiance Aaron (Ryan Hansen) and desperately seeking out a date (Kristen Schaal) to accompany him to the big day, Eggold blends in the past that Adam just won’t let go of, cleverly filtered through three different types of film stock that grow more narrow in aspect ratio the more cherished and romanticized they are by its lead. Surely, Adam, an editor of documentaries, would appreciate the way form so shrewdly performs function in telling his story, if of course, he could actually see his narrative clearly, and the way Eggold depicts the growing disparity between his perspective and what you see as an audience shows a refreshing level of sophistication for what otherwise might be considered a familiar story of a jealous ex.
“Literally, Right Before Aaron” also shows a strong eye for casting, with Eggold likely coaxing favors from famous friends he’s met along the way for his directorial debut, but doing so for the right reasons, enlisting the likes of Lea Thompson, Dana Delany and Luis Guzman to give an instant gravitas to single scenes as voices of reason for Adam, while Smulders and Hansen are more than endearing enough as Alison and Aaron to make it so you don’t necessarily want to see Adam succeed in sabotaging the wedding. But whether or not the ceremony goes through as planned, Eggold’s first feature is nonetheless a happy occasion, marking the arrival of a consummate and inventive filmmaker.
“Literally Right Before Aaron” does not yet have U.S. distribution.