A young woman breaks free from an overbearing friendship after learning to recognise and assert her own talents and desires.
Saying more in 15 minutes than many a big budget drama, this short, uplifting film about a long, constraining friendship is pithy, witty and warm.
It’s also realistic; Jenny (Andreina Byrne) knows her friendship with Lynn is manipulative and oppressive, as Lynn (Tipper Newton) both downplays Jenny’s talents and pressurises her to move in with her. This is one of those intense relationships where you know you’re being used, and gaslighted, but breaking free is another matter.
Jenny’s potential, once she can break free, is represented by her own superpower: she can create overwhelming smells at will, from donuts to cat poo. (Anyone with a small child will recognise a version of it, and the screwed-up face she makes producing them.)
Lynn pretends she can’t smell anything; literally ignoring Jenny’s biggest talent.
One day Lynn admits her own power, and it involves taking over even more of Jenny’s life. Crude Oil doesn’t miss a trick; the sparkle of the “Lynn effect” seems to make the insecure Jenny more interesting, more vibrant and more popular. The pull between the intoxication and suffocation of a toxic relationship is always there.
The film, written and directed by Christopher Good, premiered at Sundance and is currently one of Vimeo’s Staff Picks (you can watch the whole short below.) His direction is turbo-charged but despite so many interlocking elements and styles (wistful dreams of what could have been, visualisations of Jenny’s superpower, montages) it never feels overstuffed.
Byrne and Newton are pitch perfect, with solid support from Josh Fadem as Jenny’s boyfriend Ken, a genial and accepting character who admits he himself has no skill whatsoever.
Crude Oil‘s allegories – in dialogue and visuals – are obvious but deliberately so, in a story that manages to maintain a sense of realism in a story about superpowers.
This is a fast-moving film, disjointed and nervy as Jenny juggles dreams of a better future with her reality. At times watching it I felt dizzy. It leans into its parameters rather than trying to break out. The result is empowering but also – in a world of motivational slogans about being yourself that rarely turn out to be enough – clear-sighted about what it takes to get there.
Watch Crude Oil now: