In an art form so built around the image, filmmakers often seem to forget that withholding from the audience can be even more potent than showing a complete narrative. I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat through films with unnecessary flashbacks, endings that feel far too long, and other wastes of cinematic time that leave nothing to the imagination. The problem is even more pronounced in the realm of shorts, where there’s absolutely no flexibility. Every unnecessary minute should be shaved, so that things remain compact and effective; there’s nothing worse than a short that feels too long. Jennifer Aniston and Andrea Buchanan understand this, and have crafted “Room 10” as a short that plays effectively with the off-screen life of its protagonist.
Starring Robin Wright, the film is a brief look into the life of a nurse named Frannie at the end of her rope. Married for fifteen years, she is in the midst of a fight with a husband we never see. She’s taken a series of extra shifts in the ER in order to stay out of the house and hasn’t been home in over 72 hours. Co-directors Buchanan (who also wrote the screenplay) and Aniston open on Frannie in her car, yelling at her husband, intimately connecting us with her marital troubles. Yet from there on, we are stuck in the hospital, left constantly thinking about the domestic dispute without actually seeing it. Frannie’s marriage is addressed thematically, rather than directly, which strengthens the film and keeps it effective as a short.
Aniston and Buchanan build from two different patients at the hospital. There’s Bonita Friedericy as the unnamed woman in the psych ward, who comes into the hospital a few times a month with what Frannie describes as “loneliness.” She sits in the eponymous Room 10, waiting for company. At first we think nothing of her, and her story doesn’t take on added narrative significance. However, by the end of the film we find ourselves pondering her sadness, a symbol of solitude for a nurse clearly at least cynical about the future of her marriage. Thankfully, “Room 10” doesn’t go so far as to imply that leaving one’s husband and living alone will drive you into the psych ward, and rests on a slight thematic inflection from a single patient.
The real heavy stuff comes with Kris Kristofferson. He plays the aging husband of a new patient, married for 45 years and now at the hospital with his wife for the last time. She’s unconscious in the bed, and it’s clear that she isn’t going to recover. In perhaps the only unfortunately cliché moment in the short, Kristofferson tells Frannie that there’s “no secret” to a perfect marriage. All you have to do is “stay in the room.” Yet then the film redeems itself. A feature director or a less cognizant filmmaker might have made sure to bring in Frannie’s husband and show us a final reconciliation. Here all we need is Frannie herself and the implications of a single night working the emergency room. With just the right balance between on screen and off, “Room 10” is a great example of the constrained and creative art of the short film.