Director: Benjamin Cleary
Starring: Matthew Needham, Chloe Pirrie
Run-time: 12 min
In the pre-Internet age dating was so much easier; you simply approached your target, stated your intentions, and awaited your fate. That initial interaction was the ultimate test of your nerve. But you endured it, you put yourself out there, because you knew that the reward far outweighed the risk. Eventually, whether by luck or dogged perseverance, you found a match and thus entered into what you hoped would be a long and loving relationship.
Today we do things in reverse. We develop relationships, form bonds and share information without ever having laid eyes upon the object of our desire. And then, when we can put it off no longer, we agree to meet the other person, in person. Stutterer is not the first piece of fiction to tap into this modern-day phenomenon, but, unlike its predecessors, it does so without resorting to well-worn tropes or toe-curling schmaltz.
Its protagonist, Greenwood, is a shy, retiring twenty-something, a typographer who works alone and lives with his dad. The one ray of light in an otherwise dreary existence is Ellie, his girlfriend, whom he’s never met. They have been dating for six months and things have been going well, so well that Ellie suggests they meet up and take things to the next level. A daunting prospect under any circumstances. But when you’ve got a crippling speech impediment, a stutter so incapacitating that unravelling the most simple of sentences is an onerous task, it becomes all the more daunting.
Greenwood’s first instinct is to hide, to run away from the issue in the hope that it will just disappear. He liked things just the way they were; him on one side, Ellie on the other. It was safe, he could be who he wanted to be. The online Greenwood was smooth, he was charming, witty and intelligent; all the things the real-life one wasn’t. But now his safety blanket has been removed, he has been exposed for what he truly is, or at least what he believes himself to be: a spluttering idiot.
What Stutterer does so well, right up until its final, life-affirming act, is to remind us that no matter how concerned we are about our own appearance, our own foibles, our own downright stupidity, someone else will always feel the same. It skilfully distracts us from the bigger picture, asks that we wallow with Greenwood, before scolding us for being so foolish, so utterly maudlin. In that sense it is timeless; it deals with feelings and emotions that have been felt by courting couples since the beginning of time.
But perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay it is that, in spite of its short run-time (twelve minutes), it does more to promote online dating than any number of expensive, convoluted advertisements ever could. It offers hope where there seems to be none and salvation for those who need it most. And it reminds us that no matter who you are, or what you’re going through, there is always someone out there for you, always. I expect Tinder to bid for the rights any day now.
Stutterer can be watched for free via the RTE player: http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/stutterer-30003890/10536757/