It’s not “‘Groundhog Day’…technically.” Still, “that’s close enough.”
But “Long Story Short,” remembering it might help Teddy out. He’s the king of “waiting” and suddenly his life with his beloved Leanne is rushing by, one lost year at a time. He woke up the day after their wedding and one year was gone. A nap made another circuit of the sun just vaporize, a tumble into a kiddie pool takes away another, and so on.
And he’s not able to articulate what’s going on with his life, “traveling through time,” not that anyone else can tell. Because no one — not the wife who’s sharing that life with him and sees him all through that year that he’s just missed, not his best friend Sam, not the baby he didn’t realize he’s fathered and is supposedly raising — sees any evidence of that.
Except for that once a year, on their anniversary, when Teddy goes mental and can’t recall anything that’s gone on or all that’s gone wrong. Teddy’s marriage, friendships and life are getting away from him.
Rafe Spall is properly befuddled and exasperated as Teddy, a guy not able to cope with this curse or whatever you call it. Zahra Newman plays his straight man, long-suffering Leanne, the one who is witness to the years that pass as Teddy “forgets” their anniversary (He hasn’t. He can’t.), or at least forgets to buy a proper anniversary present as their marriage crumbles because Teddy is literally “never there” for it.
Writer-director Josh Lawson, an actor (“Mortal Kombat”) who also has a small role in “Long Story Short,” is dipping his toe in “About Time/Time Traveler’s Wife/Click/Groundhog Day” waters with this downbeat, wistful rom-com.
The script freely acknowledges its antecedents, because Teddy and best pal Sam (Ronny Chieng) break it down. All Teddy has to do is make things right, finally have “that perfect day” like Bill Murray in that Harold Ramis classic, and this will end.
“You DO know it’s not a documentary, right?”
But that “work out how to make this right” bit is just mentioned. Life doesn’t give you second, third, and three thousandth chances like that. It just passes you by.
Lawson’s Australian comedy begins with an epic “meet cute” that begins with mistaken New Year’s Eve kiss and ends with an epi pen. Confessions of true love at a cliffside cemetery — Teddy’s Dad died before he finally got around to proposing to Leanne come next.
And then “The Stranger” (Noni Hazlehurst) overhears them, and offers the workaholic, put-off important things, always “waiting” Teddy a gift. Only he doesn’t realize that or remember it.
Cynical Teddy has to learn big life lessons in what amounts to a day-long rush — aging but unchanged, scrambling to hang onto the great love of his life, friends and the like with mere hours to figure it all out.
You almost certainly have to have a few years on you to “get” or at least empathize with “Long Story Short,” which is “Where’d the time go?” writ large.
Spall’s antic act is fun, but the script doesn’t lean that way. His deft way with throw-away lines like “How young can you get Alzheimer’s?” is here just enough to lighten the mood.
He wakes up to a pregnant Leanne, and then is offered a baby girl he’s never met and expected to know her name.
“F— off, it is NOT…” Tallulah’s “not a name. It’s CHILD abuse!”
But as the years rush past, putting off the honeymoon they “never have time” for, going to the job he hates and promises to quit, and his iPhone becomes his only archive to the love, life, births and death he’s missed, Teddy’s “Groundhog Day” takes on the air that the original “Groundhog Day” took on — an intimate tragedy.
It’s a slender film with simplistic “live your truth” and “YOLO” messages, but Spall and Newman and Dena Kaplan, as the ex-girlfriend who wore the same dress on a New Year’s Eve that led to Teddy kissing Miss Wrong who turned out to be Miss Right, give it the heart and pathos it needs to pay off.
“Long Story Short,” here’s a rom-com that’s worth your time.
MPA Rating: R for language throughout
Cast: Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Ronny Chieng, Dena Kaplan, Josh Lawson and Noni Hazlehurst
Credits: Scripted and directed by Josh Lawson. A Canal+ film, a Saban Films release
Running time: 1:35