Will Rogers in "Nancy, Please"

Tribeca ’12 Review: Andrew Semans’ Sterling
Debut Makes You Want More “Nancy, Please”

All our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage can be found here.

There may not be words for how much I loved “Nancy, Please,” but as it happens, that’s a problem for its main character Paul (Will Rogers) as well. Two years into his graduate studies at Yale, he’s yet to complete a sentence on his thesis about Charles Dickens, content to busy himself with moving into a new home near campus with his girlfriend Jen (Rebecca Lawrence) and presiding over study groups. However, he’s troubled to learn that amidst the hundreds of other books he’s taken with him to his new residence, he accidentally left behind his copy of Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit” with his old roommate Nancy (a wonderfully ornery Eleonore Hendricks), who it’s clear he’s not eager to get in touch with again.

Eleanore Hendricks in "Nancy, Please"Despite her name in the title, we actually see precious little of Nancy for the majority of the film, though she’s front and center for the film’s brilliant establishing shot, glimpsed painting her toenails in the dark as a self-help tape plays in the background. Like a flash of the shark in “Jaws,” the moment lends credence to all the monstrous things Paul and Jen say about her as Paul debates how he’s going to get his book back. Clearly averse to confrontation, he tells his friend Charlie how once after asking Nancy to wash some dishes, she promptly broke them and Jen volunteers to leave used tampons in the bathroom if it’ll make their new place feel more like home. But as impressively as writer/director Andrew Semans builds up this unseen beast who won’t return Paul’s calls as someone worthy of fear, he does an even better job of revealing Paul to be his own worst enemy with fears he’s too self-involved to articulate.

Even at a relatively short 84 minutes, “Nancy, Please” runs the risk of wearing thin since the ride from Connecticut to New York isn’t the greatest of obstacles for Paul to overcome. But Semans and co-screenwriter Will Heinrich’s mordant wit distracts from the inevitability of a resolution while his richly drawn characters are both engaging and deliberate, all more clever and calculating than they immediately let on and strategically placed by the film as needling voices of the real world to pierce through Paul’s otherwise impenetrable existence in his own head. Only when that location becomes too uncomfortable, lousy with visions of dead squirrels and bleeding bags of children’s kidneys (you’ll just have to see it, though the visions might be familiar to anyone with writer’s block), does Paul feel the need to face the outside world and “Nancy, Please” is so brilliantly constructed that only after it’s over one remembers that the stakes are ultimately pretty low.

Such minimalism inherent in the film’s plot and execution requires precision and “Nancy, Please” is finely tuned across the board. Each one of the film’s five characters makes an immediate impression and subsequently do not waste a second their time onscreen, particularly Rogers, who carries the film with a proper air of complacency and finds both the humor and the eventual hurt in Paul’s pathetic slide into self-pity. On the technical side, Eric Lin’s cinematography is appropriately cool to the touch and the relaxed editing scheme by Ron Dulin allows for nearly every moment of every scene to sink in for maximum effect.

Ironically, for a film about the unfortunate consequences of a man who can’t escape his mind, “Nancy, Please” has only had a positive effect as it refuses to leave mine, a film that reminds me of an academic version of “What About Bob?” that’s one of the finest American feature debuts I’ve seen in some time.

“Nancy, Please” will show three more times at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22nd, April 26th and April 28th and will go on to play the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival on April 30th and May 1st.

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