Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Producer, Alli Hartley for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Drama/Comedy film “Cold War”, Written and Co-Directed by J. Wilder Konschak with Stirling McLaughlin also credited for Directing. Cold War takes a darkly funny look at the examination of the early stages of a couple’s relationship after they decide to move in together. Maggie and Jon (played by Madeline Walter and Michael Blaiklock) are just your everyday couple, naturally progressing to the next phase of their relationship when suddenly Maggie is struck down with the dreaded “raccoon” flu. It’s not long before Jon is forced to join her on bed rest, thus ensuing an all out war between the two as even the smallest of things start to drive each of them crazy. The film also stars Gail Rastorfer, Antoine McKay, Rammel Chan and Sara Sevigny.
A few years ago Konschak and McLaughlin teamed up on a four-minute short film called “Positive Visualization”, of which Cold War seems to be an extension of. I’ve never seen their short film, and to be honest I don’t tend to review a lot of relationship based drama or romance films so this one was a fresh experience. J cleverly partitions Cold War into chapters resembling each stage of the flu, in turn presenting it as a metaphor for the layers of what a relationship entails. DP, Jason Chiu opens the film with a series of nice establishing shots of the neighbourhood while Walter’s narration comes straight in, as she explains what its like when you have the flu. There’s an excellent transition after, that follows a number of quick shots cross dissolving over each other, culminating in a scene that picks up with a sick Maggie sitting in a waiting room telling strangers about her problems. Chiu’s camera work is simple and nicely framed, there’s some smart overhead shots throughout the film too. The audio track is loud and clear, making the depiction of several vomiting sequences even more realistic (yuck). The comedy on display in Cold War is a mixed bag. Some of its dry, awkward and “Scrubs” like in nature, the other, more toilet humor that can be found with the lower hanging fruit. There are moments in which something gets the better of Maggie and those are usually quite funny because she continues to talk under her breath despite the fact that no one’s listening. One particular interaction with a man in the hospital completely catches her off guard, its subtle and hilarious, reminiscent of a similar gag in “The Hangover”.
There’s fun to be had and the comedy is fairly consistent in the first half of the film, Madeline and Michael do particularly well not to laugh might I add. There’s some good and relatable writing in Konschak’s script, namely some of that internal conflict that builds within Maggie when the question is asked of her by Jon to take that leap. Many of us have been in that situation before, and attempting to forget what you know in life in order to move forward isn’t an easy notion for a lot of us (I can speak from experience). Maggie’s realisation is eventually externalized through revisiting a childhood memory, that was a nice touch. J also highlights important things that are prevalent in all relationships, such as keeping ones own identity, personality quirks and traits and how they affect a partner, even looking at the specifics of sexual desires. The strongest aspect of J and Stirling’s debut feature-length film is its performances. The natural dynamic between Walter and Blaiklock is what makes the film work on a base level. Madeline looks a little like actress, Elizabeth Moss mixed with “How I Met Your Mother’s” Cobie Smulders, even gauging a similar type of physical comedy and timing as the latter. I’d briefly seen Michael in Will Gluck’s, “Fired Up” years ago, but he didn’t get to display anywhere near the range he does here. Gail and Antoine play the painfully obtrusive and unaware Ollie and Everett, a married couple and co-workers of Maggie. They to have their standout funny moments and good comedic timing.
I’m not sure that Cold War ever really finds its niche tonally speaking. I suppose you could say that all great drama covers the full spectrum of emotions, however, I just couldn’t tell whether this was intended to be a cautionary tale, social satire or just a genuinely quirky romantic comedy. In the end I don’t think it allows itself to really take shape into any of those models. Even at a touch over 90 minutes, the pacing is sluggish. That might just simply be because the audience are with these same two people, in this same house for a majority of the run time, so naturally it can feel drawn out. In regard to the technical facets, the film is quite well made but there are a number of unintentional lapses in focus, particularly in some of the steadicam shots that follow Maggie on the street. The score didn’t seem to have a lot of life either and given the film itself was a little odd, the music wasn’t justly eccentric like I expected. Instead, there was a lot of bass that just seemed to drone away in the background. I’m not sure if J’s intention was to stay true to life in terms of the believability of Maggie and Jon as a couple but I didn’t really buy them being together. Though that detail isn’t necessarily a flaw because they do say opposites attract, so who really knows.
As I mentioned earlier, not all the gags land and Konschak raised a red flag for mine when Ollie makes a reference to “Friends” (statistically the greatest sitcom ever made) not being funny! Are you kidding me?! Any who… There’s a couple of immature sexual discussions that I think could’ve been cut to shorten the run time, and if not for that reason, they clash with the heart of the story. The lengthy childish back and forth on the phone between Maggie and Jon to their respective bosses fell painfully flat, and the mermaid bedroom talk served absolutely no purpose either. I found the random appearance of the man in Maggie’s sex dream confusing as well, What was the relevance of that? And if I’m not mistaken, wasn’t he the same man in her childhood flashback? If so, that’s hinting at some darker exposition which would be completely out of left field for what’s ultimately a drama/comedy film. I consider myself the type of guy who looks deeper than surface value when it comes to the thought of pursuing something of substance, so I wasn’t a huge fan of the way J tried to super simplify the male mindset, evident in Everett’s boob talk (for lack of a better term) with Jon, which basically depicts us as mindless drones that only really care about one thing, which might be the case for some of us but it’s a mass generalization.
I’ll be the first to admit that films like “Cold War” don’t show up in my inbox very often. Horror usually floods in because it’s the most affordable genre to shoot independent films in. That said, I do enjoy a good analysis of a relationship, just look at greats like “500 Days Of Summer”, “The Spectacular Now” and “La La Land”. Cold War feels a touch like “Catfight”, but other than that it can’t be likened to much so I suppose that’s a real positive for Konschak and McLaughlin. It opens with some fun narration and a nicely timed edit, all the camera work is serviceable and the audio track sharp. There’s a handful of pretty funny sequences for those looking for laughs, though they occur mostly in the first half of the film. Others who want good understated drama will find it in some of J’s specifics, and I’m sure viewers currently in a relationship will be far more responsive to the material than I was. I enjoyed watching the pairing of Madeline and Michael who deliver really solid performances. I think Cold War does suffer from stifled pacing and the tone of the content often clashes from scene to scene. I found myself deliberating on the two of them as a couple (which may have been the point) and sizeable chunks of the low-brow humor missed the mark for me. Ten minutes of the sexually explicit interactions on the phone and in the bedroom could’ve been cut out and the film wouldn’t have lost anything, that and Maggie’s dream made little sense in the context of things. The male characters were a little too dumbed down for my liking, hence I felt the exploration of the couple was considerably lopsided. Cold War is still a perfectly serviceable debut feature from a couple of young filmmakers and I look forward to seeing what they do next. You can check out the official trailer below and the film will be available April 6th on Digital Home Entertainment platforms!
My rating for “Cold War” is 5.5/10