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For genuine haunting, no ghost or goblin can compete with “the love that got away.” Whether it’s Gatsby pining for Daisy via her flashing green light across the bay or Harry Chapin stashing that 20 in his shirt after driving around his old girlfriend in a taxi, stories about old loves can be incredibly affecting, even devastating. Writer/director Matthew Weinstein’s new film A MISSED CONNECTION packs a similar wallop. Its themes are unrequited love, fate, and time, and it’s a quiet little gift of a film clocking in at a mere 21 minutes and 22 seconds.

Jake (Tyler Pistorius) is a man all too used to the elements in his life not going his way. He’s the kind of guy whose briefcase opens on a cold winter’s night and plops all of his papers smack dab on the wet sidewalk. Scrambling to make sure none of his documents are lost, he’s particularly concerned with a single sheet of paper with poetry written on it. The camera keeps most of the lines out of focus, with the only line that’s legible reading, “It doesn’t matter.”

Kimberly Michelle Vaughn in A MISSED CONNECTION

Of course, it does. Jake may try to convince himself that romanticism is something in his past, cynically offering up observations like “The past is a foreign country” and “Pragmatism always overshadows idealism” but there’s a catch in his delivery that shows he doesn’t quite buy into such doom. He may walk around like a constipated cloud about to rain any moment, disliking the life he’s leading in a dead-end office job that forces him to drink just to get through the day, but his crisp appearance suggests he’s readying for something better.

Indeed, something better walks into his life, right as he’s licking his wounds and pouring the contents of his flask generously into his venti latte. It’s an old crush from college named Lauren (Kimberly Michelle Vaughn). She too is having a bad night as she’s just been freshly dumped by the man she’d been seeing. He dropped her via cellphone too, to make it all the more humiliating.

Even so, when Lauren recognizes Jake, she’s open, breezy and upbeat. As they reacquaint themselves six years past their time together in college, she fondly remembers Jake’s writing and vividly recalls specifics of his dark and ardent imagination, even a memorable story he penned about a mortician. She admits that he inspired her back in school, and her wanting to do more with her life is a reflection of his ‘tutelage.’

Lauren’s worked in a number of start-up companies and soon, she’ll be starting something up with Jake again too. If he’s open enough himself, that is. See, Jake’s learned to shield himself with all kinds of armor, from his sarcastic words to his cynical eyes to his low,  monotone voice. Even his beard and eyeglasses seem to serve as a wall erected to protect his thin skin from the world.

Tyler Pistorius in A MISSED CONNECTION

Weinstein’s odd couple performs a compelling and complex dance of fits and starts, with each stepping closer to their true feelings before edging back from them. Their silences and what’s left unsaid are as evocative as their words, and the dialogue he’s written keeps you hanging on every syllable. Of course, Jake’s poem will figure into their reunion too, and just where it leads, well, that’s something you’ll have to see for yourself. The short film premieres Friday, February 21 at the Beloit Film Festival, and don’t be surprised if it wins top prize there. It’s that good, and that affecting.

A MISSED CONNECTION is an exceedingly well-told two-hander, shot beautifully in yellow and sienna hues by Tom Kinstle, edited precisely by Andrew K. Smith, and scored hauntingly by Mark Bartels. (I’m looking up Bartels on Spotify as soon as I publish this.) Both performers give complex and nuanced performances, with Vaughn making a particularly indelible impression. Most audiences will likely fall in love with her as readily as Jake does in the story.

Weinstein has delivered a truly special short, blending cynicism and romanticism equally, showing that second chances are possible if one opens themselves to them as easily as that malfunctioning briefcase of Jake’s. Its hinges just won’t stay closed in the story, and in its own way, the object joins Daisy’s pier and Chapin’s taxi as one of Cupid’s catalysts for connection.

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