The world of cinema set-ups is chockablock with the familiar and the unique and in the case of Dim the Fluorescents, director Daniel Warth alongside co-writer Miles Barstead have pooled the two into a unique take of a familiar narrative. The familiar: focusing on the plight of the struggling artist; the unique: the struggling artists in this case bide their time by producing and performing elaborate demonstrations for companies and corporations.
Audrey (Claire Armstrong) and Lillian (Naomi Skwarna) comprise the struggling artist roles – the latter, a playwright; the former, an actress – combining to form a perfect union of collaboration, a symbiotic relationship of complementing talents. Immediately apparent from their initial performance – a heart-rending narrative highlighting how to handle grievances from a customer service standpoint – is that the nondescript walls of conference rooms are undeserving in their housing of the two’s talents. They are destined for greater things but unfortunately find themselves covering topic such as sexual harassment or examples of leadership.
They are creating their own opportunities in a way or, at least, making the best of a situation and creating the roles and work that they want to see in the world. Unfortunately, these works are relegated to the aforementioned white collar settings. However, venues hold no sway as the two treat every performance as the opportunity of a lifetime; every line, every interaction, gesture and pause carefully considered and discussed, a seemingly inordinate amount of preparation packed into a three-minute production and that is part of the humor of Dim the Fluorescents: the serious effort that goes into these performative examples of workplace behaviors.
The biggest reason the humor of the film (or the entirety of the film for that matter) works comes down to the performances of Armstrong and Skwarna. The chemistry they display, their ability to play off of each other in banter, suggests a lengthy history of partnership as if they’ve been honing their craft in concert for years and this is the culmination of those efforts, rendering all situations captivating with their respective skills. Even when the narrative unexpectedly diverges into a more dramatic vein transforming the quirky comedy into a far more complex and emotional tale.
The foundations of their success are laid within Warth and Barstead’s well-crafted script which is both razor-sharp and irreverent in its observations while also steadily maintaining the right amount of significance to the proceedings that enables the sudden shift into high stakes drama to deliver its intended impact instead of coming across as an ill-advised change in course. The climax of which is a tornado of resentment and bitterness churning with sympathy and compassion in the air of a tumultuous exchange of catharsis that makes one wonder, “when did we get here?” and, furthermore, “how did we get here?”
In all honesty, I never expected a quirky dramedy about two fledgling artists performing educational two-handers in a corporate setting to be as enjoyable and complex as Dim the Fluorescents. Mind you, this film – this magical concoction of tired plot-points funneled through the banality and anti-excitement of white-collar workshops – clocks in at two-plus hours. For a debut. Centering around the tidbits I have previously mentioned. None of this should work and yet, a considerable amount of talent has come together and made it happen.