With a plot that could have been lifted from Noriko’s Dinner Table (Shion Sono 2005) Total Performance, written and directed Sean Meehan, follows actress Cori Sweeney (Tory Berner) who works for Total Performance; a company that helps people to rehearse for real life “problem” scenarios. A relationship in trouble, cheating spouses, a man wanting to fire an old friend, and in a nasty twist of fate, a cheating boyfriend who wants to ditch his girl.
At the start of the film Cori is explaining to Tim (Steven Conroy) how the job works. As an actor, she sees it as practice, she fills in for the person who the client needs to interact with. In the first scenario a man wants to confront his cheating wife.
In the second, Walter Baron (Timothy J. Cox) wants to practice, or rehearse, firing a dear friend from his company. In the third scenario, Cori learns that Tim wants to leave his girlfriend.
Somewhat like the Shion Sono film, the actors in the company fill in for lovers, partners or friends. As Cori tells Tim earlier, they are “sparring” partners for the client.
Meehan has given the viewer a serious/comic look at relationships, lies and people’s inabilities to deal with difficult issues. The idea of a practice run for emotionally fraught interactions is brilliant. In Noriko’s Dinner Table, the premise was filling in for missing family members rather than providing a sort of “counseling” service.
(It should also be pointed out that in the Shion Sono film, this was a subplot used to caveat the main plot line, the film, a “J Horror” was not about the actors but a follow on to another earlier horror film.)
As the female lead, Tory Berner is everything one could hope for. With eyes that captivate and yet still manage to convey rage (in the scene with Paul Locke, as Bruce, her eyes combine teary anger with an impressive intensity) where needed. We believe in this performers role as sparring partner and we also feel for her later in this short film.
The supporting players; Locke as Bruce, Cox as Baron, all feel as real as Tory’s character. Cox always delivers in his roles and his portrayal of the boss who must practice firing a friend is touching as is it amusing.
While the allusion to Noriko’s Dinner Table may only exist in this reviewers imagination, Meehan has given us a world where people have become incapable of either telling the truth (Tim) or handling the more unpleasant aspects of their lives. The fact that a company of actors have come up with a business based on this issue is brilliantly funny and says something about modern man’s inability to cope with real life issues.
Cinematographer Chris Loughran does an excellent job of matching the camera work to the mood and the sets all look spot on. Both the camera work and the set pieces combine to make the film feel like a slice of white collar Americana.
This is Meehan’s eighth effort in the driver’s seat as both writer and director and it shows. Total Performance is a delightful gem, a well crafted humorous and ironic tale of one actress’s “Day” job. The small slice of Cori’s dilemma is well presented and we feel for the young woman by the end of the film.
A 4 out of 5 stars for giving us characters and an outside the box storyline that is comedic but also touching. Bravo.