The Man on Her Mind
Written by Alan Hruska
Directed by Alan Hruska and Bruce Guthrie
It’s no fun to bash a no-budget passion project like The Man on Her Mind. Every frame practically oozes with the blood, sweat and tears of the filmmakers; every exterior shot almost certainly “stolen;” every interior shot almost certainly filmed at a generous friend’s house. You can smell the cigarette smoke and taste the wine as they celebrated another successful day of filming. It’s the spirit of independent filmmaking that keeps cinema rich and vibrant. And yet, failure is also a part of the creative process, and this film simply fails on too many levels to warrant your time.
It is an extremely tricky business adapting a stage play to film. At best, you can recapture some of the immediacy and energy of the original theatrical production. At worst, it can feel clunky and, for lack of a better term, staged. Sadly, despite some interesting ideas and heartfelt performances, Alan Hruska’s adaptation of his own stage play is decidedly clunky. The spirit is willing, but the flesh (more specifically, the script) is weak.
The Man on Her Mind follows two lost souls stuck at the intersection of fantasy and reality. The first is Nellie (Amy McAllister), a Manhattan book editor who relies on fantasy to compensate for her lack of friends. She’s not shy about this fact either, which perturbs her upwardly-mobile sister, Janet (Georgia Mackenzie), to no end. Janet wants her kid sister to find a man and be happy, just not too happy. After all, domestic bliss should be somewhat miserable.
The second daydreamer is Leonard (Samuel James), a ghost writer who is required to occupy other people’s fantasies for a living. Coincidentally, he lives next door to Janet and her henpecked husband, Frank (Shane Attwooll), who desperately want to pry Leonard and Nellie from their fantasy worlds and shove them together instead. For Leonard and Nellie, however, the fantasy has become a respite from their disaffected reality. Leonard skulks about his massive suburban home amidst the unpacked furniture crates he bought six months ago, while Nellie absconds to her box-like studio apartment high above the New York skyline.
The twist comes when we see that Nellie’s ‘fantasy man’ is an upscale version of Leonard named ‘Jack.’ Leonard skips all pretenses of a pseudonym and simply creates a fantasy version of Nellie herself. Though they met only briefly at a dinner party, each made an indelible impression in the other’s mind, setting them about their latest fantasy tryst, minus all the messy human interaction.
There’s some extremely clever stuff happening with the fantasy doppelgangers that Nellie and Leonard create. Alan Hruska’s script (he shares directorial duties with Bruce Guthrie) delights in the idea that these fantasy concoctions have real emotional depth, even feeling a sense of obligation to find happiness for their creators. The impromptu meetings between fantasy Nellie and fantasy Leonard (Jack) make for the film’s most refreshing moments. This should come as no surprise, of course, because it’s the only cinematic idea in the entire film.
The rest of The Man on Her Mind is a glorified reproduction of the Charing Cross Theatre production originally staged by Hruska and Guthrie back in 2012. So faithful to the original is this adaptation that the theatrical cast was brought along for the ride. Given their blocky mannerisms and stilted responses, McAllister and James feel ill-equipped for the transition to screen, though James does better with the slapstick elements of the story. Without the spontaneous energy of the stage, however, this just feels like scene after scene of endless exposition between two people sitting in a room. Sadly, Hruska’s stiff dialogue only makes matters worse. There is rich thematic material here about risking pain to find happiness, but our exploration is limited to philosophical musings. Much of this material feels like the first draft of a Richard Linklater script, striving to find a central premise through undisciplined ramblings.
There’s just no escaping the fact that The Man on Her Mind is awkward and dull. By the time we reach the film’s more clever devices, it’s too late. At best, it serves as an instructive reminder that stage and film are two very different colors: mix them at your own risk.
— J.R. Kinnard