Sometimes, when a door closes shut, a window opens wide. But what if it’s a secret window into a world of lies, mystery, heartbreak… and puppets? That’s more or less the premise of MLE, a feature film written, directed and starred by Sarah Warren. Believe it or not, based on a true story.
Actress Julie Robert (stop it, guys) comes to London all the way from Canada with her so-called best friend Camila (Julie Sype), guided by the promise of acting in a movie about vampire mermaids. When the project is canned due to lack of funding, a series of unfortunate events culminate in Julie nearly running over Bella, a beautiful businesswoman who instead of unleashing her rage — for now — offers her a job as a spy. Her mission: to find out what Bella’s stepdaughter really does with her father’s allowance money.
Julie is an actress, so she treats this as an acting job. She needs the money. Her family back home still believes she’s meant to be a star and she lets them think she’s still working on the movie. Through a conversation with her mum, she comes up with the perfect pseudonym, and the perfect title for this film.
Thus, Emily (MLE, My Little Eye, you get it) meets Joy (real-life BFF and production powerhouse Deidre Garcia) and finds out they are pretty much soulmates. They bond over their love for cake and their passion for making puppets; and their connection is very real. So what starts like a fast way to make ends meet and replenish that money jar in her landlord’s fridge turns into an ethical conundrum and, as things get darker and darker, a mission to save her new friend and her family.
MLE is a story of downfall and growth, where the initial goal of fame and fortune eventually switches to something else. Something our star not only wants, but needs. No, it’s not a job in a decadent environment that treats her like rubbish. It’s not a bearded knight on a bicycle, although he’s cool and he’s a gamer like her. Julie’s idea of becoming “somebody” gradually waltzes away from the lights and the microphones, and now rests on a balcony along with her toys. Her aim is now to be herself and be accepted as she is, in a world where uniqueness and friendship are harder to find than fame and fortune. Of course everything else is still more than welcome, but it’s no longer a priority.
The images are cute, and the film looks like it was filtered on Instagram. Like a Sweet Sixteen party curated by Wes Anderson. However, it couldn’t be further away from all those twee little movies. It does not intend to look cute, and the plot and characters do not intend to be quirky. They just are. Just like those basketcases (like yours truly) who feel awkward at parties surrounded by mansplaining feminists or who play grown up at job interviews or who didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle until well into their 20s-30s. It’s not “look at me being an adult baby”, but more like “look at me trying to navigate the world and become a functioning adult without losing myself completely”.
Another thing that made me click with MLE was the connection between Julie/Sarah and her two homes: keeping composure when Skyping with her parents and finding them weirder and weirder each day, while taking notice on the smallest things that keep Britain weird and citizens take for granted. Panoramic shots of Julie gazing from her terrace into the City, skyscrapers grazing perpetually grey clouds. Slang words like “quid”. Driving from the right seat. Rude gestures. Bunting. Even the ugly London stuff like people shouting random insults at you. Everything is so peculiar, and nothing is more peculiar than living in what seems to be a permanent state of liminality. You just enjoy the ride and eat your cake after your 1, 2, 3, 4 veggies — as long as the cake ain’t a lie.
The film was backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, where nearly 200 people donated over £20,000 to the cause. Of course no one would say “no” to this adorable douchebag puppet. I promise you he gets better in the film. Now I want to give him all my money. Also, his sister puppet is even lovelier.
MLE‘s première in Leicester was last week at the Phoenix, but if you find it at your nearest cinema, go watch it. I swear it’s less sickly than the trailer, and it has quality songs by Bristol’s own Clayton Blizzard. Stay for the credits to hear/listen/pay attention to “Julie’s Theme” and for the full version of the “Canadian” Cake Song. 🍰🍰🍰