“Small World” is the newest short film from Massachusetts-born, New York City-based writer, director, actor, Screen Actors Guild nominee and occasional stuntman Jim Ford. I say occasional stuntman because while he has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies over the years (from CBS’ “Blue Bloods” and CW’s “Gossip Girls” to Dennis Dugan’s “Grown Ups 2” and Anthony Gallivan’s “Revenge of the Green Dragons”), he also served as a stunt performer and stunt double in movies and TV shows like “Knight and Day”, “Central Intelligence”, “Law & Order” and “The Sopranos”.
Quite recently, he handled stunt duty in a pivotal scene in Netflix’s epic crime drama “The Irishman” (one of my favourite movies of 2019, and dare I say, the 2010s), directed by Martin Scorsese. And while you may think Jim is the next stuntman-turned-filmmaker in line to unleash the next action movie extravaganza to the masses (a mere week ago at the time of this review, Netflix released “Extraction”, the debut feature from stuntman-turned-filmmaker Sam Hargrave), he’s an actor first and foremost.
Having done my research prior to watching “Small World” (thanks largely in part to his official website – jimford.com), I could tell Jim was a person who not only loved acting, but loved telling stories driven by competent acting. Most times, those stories (like the incredibly hilarious, award-winning shorts “Fight Scene” and “We Have Your Wife”, both available on the Forestfire Productions YouTube channel and Jim’s Vimeo page) will take all-too-familiar scenarios we’ve either experienced in real life or seen in a TV show / movie and carry them to unexpected yet ultimately logical conclusions.
Which leads us to “Small World”, which tells the simple story of a brief encounter between two Americans – John (played by Jim) and Katie (Hannah Sloat) at a bar in an unnamed country. If you’re familiar with romantic dramas like Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”, you’ll either be pleased or a tad bit surprised to see how quickly John and Katie hit it off. Without getting into spoilers, things get a little too convenient when they realize how ‘similar’ they are to each other. And…..well……we get a slightly expected yet ultimately logical conclusion.
While that conclusion may make or break one’s overall enjoyment of “Small World”, the strength of this film lies in its relatability. Even if you’ve never travelled outside of your home country, anyone can relate to being in a new environment and experiencing new things for the first time whilst hoping to find someone to confide in and sympathize with your temporary, fish-out-of-water predicament.
Filmed entirely in one room, “Small World” is remarkably well-made. Its cinematography, handled by Tony Xie and Dan Guillaro, is quite impressive, along with the lighting (also handled by Tony) and set decoration by Ismerida Lopez. For some odd reason, I couldn’t help but focus on – and admire – the unique décor of the bar itself, with its shades of brown and window-like grooves on the walls. The ‘exotic’ nature of this set is accentuated by the film’s incredibly chipper background music – a traditional Chinese melody that will work its way into your brain – and stay there!
There’s even a brief animated sequence at the beginning of “Small World” that sets up both the relatable and slightly dark nature of the film. Narrated in a faux-British accent (the ease of imitating an accent of that nature is repeated later in the film), this sequence, animated by Serge Volsky, simply and quite effectively emphasizes the distance Americans will travel to discover new cultures, experiences and people. In the film’s logic however – once again without getting into spoilers – the less similarities you have with the people you meet in your travels, the better. Until they get to know you better, that is.
Jim Ford and Hannah Sloat have great on-screen chemistry, and thanks to their seemingly endearing characters, one can easily get swept up in their casual, friendly conversation (which takes up a majority of the 3-minute runtime). And while its outcome – or should I say the lingering threat of it – was indeed expected, the open-ended nature of its conclusion made my overall viewing experience of “Small World” all the more satisfying.
In the end, I left “Small World” with a smile on my face. It’s well-written, well-acted and well-executed, in addition to being charming, concise and quite hilarious in a slightly dark sort of way. Jim Ford truly showcases his talents in writing, acting and directing, and I’m curious to see what quirky, offbeat story (with or without the incorporation of stunts) he delivers next. If you like your comedies with a little dash of gallows humour, and if you like films with relatable situations carried out to weird, unpredictable but still logical conclusions, then I highly recommend giving this film a look.
OVERALL RATING: Decent 4 out of 5 stars.
“Small World” is currently an OFFICIAL SELECTION at the Austin Comedy Short Film Festival, Marina Del Rey Film Festival and Northeast Film Festival.