COVID-19 has changed a lot about movies. Even after the near complete shutdown of all film production has come to an end, it has left a lasting impact on how people make movies, how we consume them, and even the kinds of stories we tell. The new indie drama Love in Dangerous Times is deeply rooted in the pandemic, having been filmed smack dab in the middle of it, exploring the evolving attitudes and experiences almost in real-time as the nationwide shutdown has dragged on, and even using the global infection total as a framing device for marking the passage of time. Writer/Director Jon Garcia uses the film to ask questions that will feel intimately familiar to most people living through this unprecedented moment – or at least to young people who can afford to live alone — like, how do you forge a real, personal connection with someone you’ve never met? How do you keep your mind occupied in the absence of almost all forms of human contact? And wouldn’t it be great if you wrote and starred in a play about your unresolved issues with your ex?
Jason (Ian Stout) is an actor and playwright living in Portland, Oregon in the year 2020. More importantly, at the start of the film at least, he’s a complete and utter tool. Best known for his role in a suitcase commercial in which he runs out of the ocean in a suit, Jason is taking some time to work on his own project, a play about a thinly veiled version of himself who gets buried in a landslide and uses his last remaining battery and oxygen to hash things out with his ex-wife. To get over his real-world ex-wife, Jason spends his days on a dating app where he tries to pick up girls using the tried and true formula of moving too quickly and asking to see their boobs on the first video chat. When COVID hits and the city shuts down, Jason is a complete denier, insisting that it won’t be that bad and will be over quickly. Yet somehow, he remains single.
As in real life, a lot changes over the course of the pandemic. Jason is forced to take a job as a food delivery driver, which constantly triggers his growing fears about the pandemic, and he meets a delightful young woman named Sorrel (Tiffany Groben). Though their relationship occurs exclusively online – and Sorrel never appears outside of Jason’s computer screen – the pair begin a whirlwind romance that escalates faster than most in-person ones do. They quickly start spending all their time on video chat, share intimate secrets, and even say “I love you” far more easily than most people who have never met. Through it all, Sorrel brings out the best in Jason. While he begins the film as a pretentious, egotistical, and kind of obnoxious hipster, their easy familiarity, remote dinner dates, and unchoreographed dance parties bring out the sweet, kind, and loving hipster that’s hiding deep down.
Like any movie that focuses almost exclusively on two actors and one location, there is a lot riding on the performances from its leads. Fortunately, Stout and Groben are as earnest as they are adorable, and the relationship between Jason and Sorrel comes off as completely natural, even if the circumstances in which they find themselves are anything but. This is a real and honest love story about people brought together by technology, which is a refreshing change of pace. These days, it seems like every movie from The Social Network to Her seems to focus more on the ways technology can isolate and divide, and it’s heartening to remember that our digital lives can sometimes enrich our real ones, even if only in the most extreme of circumstances.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
We’ll have to wait to see how well Love in Dangerous Times holds up in the future, once life has gotten back to normal and a whole slew of art has been made about this period in history. For now, it’s a wonderful film to watch during the pandemic, and a sweet story to take your mind off the downfall of democracy. There’s much that will prove relatable to almost everyone going through quarantine, as well as plenty of humorous diversions – such as the appropriately uncomfortable socially distanced sex scene – that will make you feel a lot better about your own life.