Vague Visages’ Perfectly Good Moment review contains minor spoilers. Lauren Greenhall’s 2023 movie stars Stephen Carlile and Amanda Jane Stern. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Perfectly Good Moment, a sneaky two-hander with an important message, would be more effective as a 20-minute short film. Branded as a psychosexual thriller, the debut narrative feature by director Lauren Greenhall and screenwriter/lead actress Amanda Jane Stern gets too caught up in the technical aspects, which in turn devalues the subgenre elements. A psychosexual thriller should be sexy, not stiff; chemistry should ooze from the main characters. A vibe should be established within the first 15 minutes, one that communicates the core personality traits for the protagonist and villain. Despite a clever twist, Perfectly Good Moment doesn’t justify its 72-minute runtime.
Structural and pacing issues negatively impact Perfectly Good Moment’s first half. Ruby — a Columbia University student, portrayed by the aforementioned Stern — meets a charming gent named David (Stephen Carlile) at a party during the prologue. As their relationship progresses, a first-act interior scene (with strong production design) suggests that something is off with the relationship dynamic. David, a financial advisor, comes across as phony and controlling, whereas Ruby clearly feels uncomfortable. Unfortunately, Perfectly Good Moment’s second act doesn’t effectively build upon the central themes, but rather deviates from everything that’s so entertaining about psychosexual thrillers. Greenhall and Stern, in collaboration with intimacy coordinator Acacia DëQueer, challenge genre norms with a slick reveal that partially explains the lack of chemistry, but that won’t matter to viewers who walk away midway through, due to a lack of character development and narrative flow.
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Perfectly Good Moment’s strong third act displays Stern’s potential as a screenwriter and actress. Ruby shows more personality; the script explains the character’s first-act stiffness. If only Greenhall had cut all the exposition and leaned heavily into genre elements. In fact, Perfectly Good Moment often feels like an accidental noir. The warm color palette does indeed suggest an erotic thriller, yet the character interactions suggest a PG-13 revenge flick.
Stern’s Ruby would look fantastic with sharp black-and-white film noir contrasts, and the central interior location would in turn pop with its noir-friendly mise-en-scène, whether it’s a lamp or a record player. Greenhall and Stern, with all their good intentions, would’ve benefitted greatly from tighter editing and more naturalism. As performers, the leads seem like they’re in different films. Carlile plays it up perfectly as a slimy businessman straight out of a 90s erotic thriller; however, Stern’s Ruby will likely confuse viewers who don’t stick around for the magical “prestige.”
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Just this morning, film critic Richard Brody of The New Yorker tweeted about the challenge of communicating “a sense of experience, of flow.” With Perfectly Good Moment, I immediately recognized an important message but couldn’t identify the messengers. Meaning, David and Ruby don’t seem like real people, even if their problems align with real-world issues. Filmmakers will always explore the space between people trying to make a relationship work. But if the main protagonists in a psychosexual thriller seem alien — if the characters truly seem like actual extraterrestrials from a science fiction movie — then the focal message won’t resonate the same with viewers expecting a different type of film. So, what is your cinematic identity, Perfectly Good Moment? It’s hard to tell. Still, there’s something to celebrate in the final act.
Perfectly Good Moment premiered at the Sarasota Film Festival in March 2023.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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