When Jackie Seiden can be seen affixing dental floss from one end of her kitchen to another in “So Late So Soon” for a piece of artwork, in which a plastic cow will dangle from the middle, you recognize the high-wire act she’s creating, but not the one she’s living as the camera quickly turns from her to Don, her husband of 50-plus years, who watches on quizzically. “Of all the things you’ve watched me do over a half-century,” she laughs heartily to herself, asking if he’ll ever need anything out of the cabinet that’s knob provides one of the points she can tie the floss to, knowing already she’s depriving herself of oil and vinegar for future use. Don just shakes his head, not ever needing much.
And that’s largely the problem as director Daniel Hymanson goes to show in his warm, intimate portrait of two outsiders whose marriage is deteriorating along with their health, seeing their natural bond as artists who grew up just blocks from one another fray when thoughts creep into Jackie’s mind of what could’ve been as Don becomes less active. Although the two share a similar creative drive, their artistic temperaments couldn’t be any different – Jackie works in the abstract while Don draws people’s faces after a career of making sculptures, and yet while Don is interested in people as subjects, it’s gradually revealed that he is less so for any prospective partners, an arrangement that worked just fine for some time for Jackie, who proudly confesses that objects have always been her primary interest, but has aged poorly, particularly when she still has former students from her days of teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago to talk to, among others, but it appears as the introverted Don has no one else but her.
One can see why it would be unnecessary for the two to ever use the cabinet again when they’ve actually co-existed for so long as oil and vinegar, but “So Late So Soon” opens up all kinds of other things in presenting a long-term relationship with unflinching candor, as well as a truly one-of-a-kind character in Jackie, whose passion and willingness to try anything hasn’t diminished from the days of when she would tap dance on roller skates, but whose physical capabilities start to get in the way of what her imagination tells her she can achieve and increasingly feels tied down by Don. For as much heartache as there is in “So Late So Soon,” it is leavened by Jackie’s no-nonsense personality and the odd couple rapport between her and Don that’s clearly made things work between them for this long, and Hymanson structures the film in such a way, judiciously folding in old home videos and interviews with the pair, that it puts you inside Jackie’s mind as past reflections of the moments when she was happiest in the past and the issues that have cropped up for her now appear to arrive to her at the same time as the audience.
“So Late So Soon” makes the most of a time when people are less afraid to say what they feel, but their words are loaded with so much history that it’s difficult to escape that context even when the person saying it doesn’t mean it in the way another thinks and the filmmakers are careful to strike a balance between the immediate and time gone by, perhaps taking cues from the Seidens’ vibrant, colorful home that’s starting to show its wear inside with mice running about and leaks in the roof only now becoming apparent. Still, it’s what Hymanson brings out of what the Seidens have held in emotionally, for better or worse, that resonates most and obviously a product of great trust and compassion, it seems like after years of expressing themselves individually through their art, “So Late So Soon” allows them to be seen together as their greatest work.
“So Late So Soon” will screen at True/False on March 8th at 12:30 pm at the Showtime Theater at the Blue Note.