The low-budget independent drama Falling Overnight stars newcomers Parker Croft and Emilia Zoryan as, respectively, Elliot Carson and Chloe Webb. He's a 22-year-old web designer scheduled for a high-wire surgery in which doctors will remove a brain tumor; she's a counterwoman who moonlights as an art photographer. The day before Elliot's operation, the two cross paths for the first time at the coffee shop where Chloe works, and she invites him to her gallery showing that evening. A night unfolds between them, sans Chloe's knowledge of Elliot's condition or procedure. Meanwhile, the odds of Elliot surviving the craniotomy hang in the balance.
This is not a bad setup for a romantic drama -- in fact, the central idea suggests incredible possibilities -- and there is no doubt whatsoever that multihyphenate Conrad Jackson's motivations for making this picture were earnest and heartfelt. He deserves acknowledgement for that. But sincere intentions and above-par delivery are different animals.
To its credit, Falling benefits from a fascinating lead performance by Croft, who projects his character's malady with lingering corporal awkwardness, verbal slurs, slow eye movements, and debilitating exhaustion. This isn't a lazy, two-bit interpretation -- it is one in which the young actor obviously invested a great deal of time, care, research, and imagination. And even though he occasionally misses the mark -- as in a sequence that shows him unconvincingly transitioning from laughter to tears -- you can also see with great clarity why Chloe would be drawn to Elliot: The physical vulnerability that he exudes somehow feels as touching and affecting to us as it does to her. Zoryan also does fine work.
The two leads bring a great deal more to the picture than the filmmakers afford them, though; the movie's execution is poor. It suffers from glaring technical lapses, including a lengthy bicycling sequence in which the dialogue is out of synch with the action; Jackson tries to cover this up with clever, rapid editing, but it doesn't work -- we can still catch the incongruities. The film's makeup continuities also leave much to be desired. It hands us a character one day away from an operation that could either end his life or leave him mentally and physically impaired. Early in the picture, with his pale skin, gaunt frame, and huge, dark circles under his eyes, Elliot seems to be at death's door. But from scene to scene, this shifts without explanation; at times he appears perfectly healthy, and at other times, virulently ill. Again: no consistency. It's likely, given the number of roles that Jackson assumed (co-writer, director, editor, and cinematographer) that he simply struggled to cover all of his bases, and that points to one of the central risks of making a drama on such a tight budget and with a minimal crew.
The central narrative arc of the picture finds Elliot and Chloe kibbutzing with her stoner friends, as they eat, drink, and party their way through a long night. Stylistically, it's easy to admire what Jackson aims for here, and he sets the bar high: With the casual, laid-back conversations that transpire, the movie seems influenced by Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused and Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. But such comparisons are superficial: In those earlier pictures, loosely strung small talk masked very specific and well-defined narrative and character arcs. Here, compounding its shallowness (one passage has a partygoer idiotically pontificating on the future success of his grilled-cheese delivery business), the dialogue fails to advance either the story or the characters. Free association just hangs in the air, without any depth or profundity, and could ostensibly go on forever.
Likely because the supporting characters are so obnoxious and shallow, the movie improves tenfold in its final scenes, when Elliot and Chloe venture back to her place together and the truth of Elliot's malady emerges at dawn. In this sequence, as in the initial meeting between the lovers at the coffee shop, a gentle chemistry stirs between the paramours. But it's all too little, too late -- just as we begin to care, the story ends, and one can't help but wonder how much more engaging this drama would have been had we observed Elliot and Chloe alone together in a pas de deux over the course of one pivotal evening.