If you’re a fan of Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” or Allen’s “Manhattan”, you might enjoy writer/director/producer Harold Jackson III’s debut narrative feature “Last Night”. It’s a beautifully shot, romantic drama set to the backdrop of Washington, DC. This soulful love letter to the District starts out slow but finishes strong.
Sky’s (Judi Blair) last day in DC becomes a field trip around the District after bumping into Jon (Danny Gavigan) at a coffee shop. The chance encounter sparks an opportunity for Sky to mentally escape her impending move to be with her boyfriend, Daniel (Benton Greene), in North Carolina. Simultaneously, Daniel deals with the unspoken distance between himself and Sky by talking with family and old friends.
The central story is the relationship that blossoms between Sky and Jon. As Sky begins to enjoy her time with Jon, she becomes more aware of the choice she has to make between the life she knows and the one that seems to be made up for her. Sensing something erroneous in his relationship with Sky, Daniel uses a chance meeting with childhood sweetheart, Angela (Nedra McClyde), to figure out his feelings as well.
While the film is wonderfully acted by its cast, the initial meeting between the destined pair is stained by a lack of on screen chemistry. Sky’s initial disposition and body language is bent toward not giving Jon the time of day in such a way that it’s hard to believe she’s interested in him. It’s as if the character knows the movie will be over if she doesn’t indulge him and stroll with him for a few city blocks, and thus obliges. It’s not until an innovative scene half way through the movie, in which the two unleash their frustration on a statue representing the chains of the corporate world, that their chemistry takes off and feels authentic.
Jackson is a student of cinema, staging multiple comical acknowledgments of movie tropes throughout the film in his dialogue. Yet it’s his framing and color of this world that stands out. Numerous times characters dealing with their personal issues are blocked by inanimate objects in the foreground of the frame. The metaphor works on the viewer as the character is crowded mentally in the moment and physically in the frame. Jackson captures Sky’s moment of enlightenment by having her walking out of a dark tunnel and into the light. His deliberate pacing and infusion of jazz throughout the film creates a steady tone and atmosphere reminiscent of that first date that had you yearning for a second.
Blair is a star and carries the film as a woman torn between two worlds. Her performance is refreshingly natural and grounded in the moment. Gavigan finds a nice balance between being the pursuing party and someone simply trying to find his place in the world, thus creating a three dimensional character that in lesser hands would be non-existent. While Greene and McClyde don’t get as much screen time, they both turn in solid performances.
As most debut films go, this one has its shortcomings, but is full of wonderful moments. It’s the moments of insecurity, doubt, fear and joy that can be found in a relationship that’s just beginning and one that’s coming to a close that resonate. Like Allen did with Manhattan, DC’s never looked so romantic as in the hands of Jackson.