As far as boy-meets-girl stories go, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, the debut feature of New York actor/writer/director/editor Terence Nance, is about as far from Titanic as it’s possible to go. With no plot or characters to speak of other than the central two, Nance plays with time, point of view, narration and the medium itself, mixing live action with various styles of animation to give us a contemporary and subjective view of the highs and lows of boy/girl relationships. While Nance’s imagination is firing on all cylinders, the sober audience might struggle to keep up or stay awake.
In a relentless narration, we are told that Terence (Nance) is rushing home on the subway to prepare his flat for a girl’s (Namik Minter) arrival. He is carrying wood with him which makes travelling awkward. On his answer phone (the story goes way back to 2001) is a message from the girl telling him that she is at her own flat and won’t be able to make it. The narrator asks the question: ‘How does that make you feel?’ The answer takes place in the spurned young man’s imagination as he tries to make sense of his feelings and what it all means.
Nance expands on this simple narrative for the next 85 minutes, providing new information (and in different styles of live action and animation) in expanding concentric circles. With each new layer, more of the background story is revealed although a comprehensible narrative line is never established. We learn, for example, that the two met at a party, that Nance was instantly attracted to the pretty girl, and that this isn’t their first date. We also learn, with some humour introduced, that Terence has chosen the wrong wood for the bed he is building for their lovemaking, and, because he’s a lousy carpenter, the bed wables. In one graphic sequence, Terence rationalises his girlfriend’s rejection of his invitation, imagining that she is in a lesbian relationship.
While An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is not pretentious as the title might suggest, you can’t help but feel that this first-time Director is trying a little too hard to be noticed. It seems to have worked as the film is being talked about. While Nance paints a convincing picture of a confused, vulnerable, and sensitive young man, wounded – and who hasn’t been there – by first love, there’s surprisingly little in it for the audience. Granted, the target audience for this film will no doubt appreciate Nance’s virtuosity more, but older audiences might find the film uninvolving to the point of boredom.
By Joyce Glasser