Written by Garrett Brown – April 28th 2022
Originally published by Film Inquiry
Most films cannot be defined as “good” or “bad” and instead fall into a middle ground of “fine”. Sometimes, a film has all the pieces it needs to make it great, but ultimately cannot deliver. Roy is one of those films, an example of a fine effort that has stand-out moments but retains flaws.
Co-written and co-directed by Tom Berkeley and Ross White, Roy is an impressive but ultimately underwhelming debut. In this short film, the titular Roy (David Bradley) is a lonely and widowed pensioner who spends his days cold calling people out of the phonebook, hoping to catch them off guard and engage them in conversation.
His life is changed when he accidentally cold calls a phone sex line, and strikes up a friendship with Cara (Rachel Shenton), a phone sex operator also yearning for connection.
I think the largest issue with the film is the fact that while the film is framed as two lost souls finding each other, the filmmakers consider Cara to be an accessory to Roy’s emotional journey. Cara feels largely like a blank slate, which is exasperated by the fact that we only hear her voice over the phone and never see her on-screen. While I understand there might have been filming difficulties due to Covid-19 and the pandemic, the result is her arc is secondary to Roy. Instead of a fully fleshed-out character, Cara is one-sided and the audience is never allowed to connect to her.
PORTRAYAL OF SEX WORK
While the short film appears to be pro-sex work, its portrayal doesn’t seem completely honest. Because the script cannot explore Cara’s emotional depths (beyond the role she plays in helping Roy) it also becomes strangely moralistic in regards to Cara as a sex worker. Roy is not against the idea of sex work, but their friendship only exists because she connects with Roy on a “real” level, and avoids sexuality.
There is no reason the script necessitates Cara to be a sex worker, other than to present her as virtuous, a good person who “does not belong” in the profession and needs the guidance of Roy to leave it. Overall, the portrayal of Cara in Roy reinforces why real sex workers should be paid to be cultural consultants in films that include the topic.
DAVID BRADLEY SHINES
Arguably, the most interesting component of the film is Roy’s cold calling ritual. Watching David Bradley prepare for his nightly ritual is chilling, drawing us in as he puts on the effect of a lonely confused old man who thought he had missed a call, hoping to garner sympathy from the listener. Bradley brings us insight into a character who doesn’t know how to ask for help or to ask for companionship. I wish the writers would let us see more of that character, but that’s not what this film wants to be.
IN THE END
In the future, I hope that Tom Berkeley and Ross White can expand their horizons, be willing to be unconventional, and potentially be okay with their characters doing unnerving or unlikable things. I believe they have lots of potential as creators, but I think Berkeley and White need to be sure to pay for professional consultants to strengthen their scripts. Roy is a solid debut, but ultimately it is neither good nor bad: overall, it is a fine beginning.
Have you seen Roy? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!