SXSW FILM 2016
By Don Simpson | March 18, 2016
Director: Debra Eisenstadt
Writers: Debra Eisenstadt, Zeke Farrow
Starring: Bill Dawes, Sarah Butler, Christine Woods, Amir Arison, Michael Rivkin, Anna Margaret Hollyman
Ken (Bill Dawes) is a stay-at-home parent whose struggling standup career does very little to contribute to his family’s finances. Ken used to be famous (with a stint on MTV), but now the breadwinning is left up to his wife (Christine Woods), thus causing a significant chasm of inequity and inequality within their household. Regardless, Ken naively continues to cling onto a hope that he will eventually sell a pitch for a film or television series.
While at the comedy club, Ken meets Holly (Sarah Butler), the one comedian who did not bomb that night. Since Ken has been kicked out of his house, Holly convinces him to hang out with her. Holly knows that Ken is married with children, but that by no means hinders her flirtatiousness. Ken is faced with making a decision between repairing his relationship at home, pursuing things with Holly or focusing solely on his comedy career.
While the plot of Debra Eisenstadt’s Before the Sun Explodes may sound familiar, its execution is refreshingly novel. Eisenstadt develops Ken into a very sympathetic character. He is a good parent who has suffered a lot of bad luck in his career; if anything, his current lack of financial responsibility is based on the fact that he is family-oriented, while his wife is career-oriented. That seems to be why comedy is his focus, because he can juggle that career with parenting. More importantly is Ken’s apprehension towards Holly. She is young, beautiful and certainly willing to sleep with him — most men in Ken’s situation would not hesitate at all. It is interesting that a female director would frame the male protagonist in such a positive perspective, while the female protagonists seem more cunning and manipulative.
Eisenstadt plays with the conventions of stalker thrillers, but cleverly exchanges the genre’s token tension for a subdued character study. The word “stalker” is tossed around a lot in Before the Sun Explodes, but by the time the true stalker is revealed, we know enough about that person that any sense of fear is diminished. While the stalker character may strive to be a bad influence, they seem to have no intentions of causing physical harm (this is as un-lethal of an attraction as you can probably get) or inciting fear. The stalker is merely obsessed and naively infatuated.