Back in vaudeville and the silent cinema, they called them “gags.” It’s the problem solving process, usually in comedies, that gets a character into or out of trouble or the next situation.
Such as “How do you get a character, paralyzed in a wheelchair, out of a locked bedroom in the second story of a remote farmhouse?”
That’s one of the clever bits of problem solving in “Run,” scripted and directed by the team that made “Searching.” This is a simple, myopic thriller with suspense, a few neat twists and superb “gag” writing by director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian.
Sarah Paulson plays a single mom who isn’t shy about letting her support group know that she’s given up “dating, travel” and everything else for her daughter. We saw the birth. We get it. Chloe was a preemie, and paralysis, diabetes, asthma and other conditions are what put her in a wheelchair — for life.
Still, “She is the most capable person I know,” Diane declares.
Pill regimen, insulin tests, inhalers, home schooling and doting care characterized Chloe’s childhood. But Chloe (Kiera Allen) is 17, smart and getting a little annoyed at the things she’s going without — friends, a social live, school and a smart phone, for starters.
She’s eagerly awaiting a college acceptance letter. And then comes to the fateful day she digs into Mom’s Kroger bag, hunting for candy. There’s a pill bottle there. And the prescription is in her mother’s name.
That triggers a manic curiosity and a cat-and-mouse game pitting the resourceful, suspicious teen with limitations, and a canny and paranoid mother whose motives Chloe comes to question and eventually fear.
Allen, making her screen debut, gives us flashes of shock, joy, fury and despair as Chloe improvises, plots and DIYs her way to answers she’s too young to fear the way she ought.
And Paulson underplays the Motivated Mom from Hell thing so well that when lines are crossed and the “game” is out in the open, we still don’t know what to expect from her.
“You need not understand this now. But I’m doing what I think is right for you.”
The wit is in the script’s collisions between Chloe’s native cunning and real world obstacles that would foil anybody. Need to find out what a prescription is in a small town after your wifi mysteriously goes out? When the pharmacist’s instincts, even the 411 service provided by your landline company, will give you away?
The funny bits are the way both mother and child play the “I’m paralyzed, feel sorry for me (her)” card.
But the thing that sets “Run” apart, even from other movies that cover similar ground — from TV’s “Sharp Objects” to “Everything, Everything” and “The Night Listener” — is the top drawer gag writing, putting a problem before Chloe, and letting her and the viewer reason, wrangle and “science” her way out of a jam.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, some violence/terror and language
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen
Credits: Directed by script by Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian A Lionsgate film, a Hulu release.
Running time: 1:30