Most mystery films involve some sort of setup involving detectives, dangerous locations, and dames trapped in the middle of it all. A.D. Calvo’s The Missing Girl replaces those tropes with a middle aged guy, a comic book shop, and a girl who records voicemail greetings for her cat.
Mort (Robert Longstreet) is a comic-book store owner who has recently hired a new employee named Ellen (Alexia Rasmussen). She’s an aspiring comic-writer, but is willing to take the job in small-town Connecticut until her big break. Mort still occasionally thinks about a missing person case that his father, a police detective, never solved, and the reappearance of Skippy, a former schoolmate (Eric Ladin), only serves to rustle back up the mystery that surrounded that case. The plot thickens when Skippy and Ellen meet, and Ellen promptly vanishes afterward.
While that may sound like a mystery set-up, it’s revealed very quickly that this is more of an anti-mystery. It’s a character study, and that manifests itself as a mystery mostly because that’s what Mort’s life is lacking. He’s not insane and he’s not delusional. He just takes a slightly out-of-the-ordinary situation and blows it up into something more. But Mort really is the heart of the story.
As he struggles to cope with not only the supposed-mysteries around him, but also his loneliness and mediocrity, there’s a range of emotions, providing something that should be relatable on some level for anyone. He’s haunted by the demons of his current life; his solitude and seeming failure. He’s haunted by demons of his past; his father and the strained relationship with his mother. But most of all he’s just haunted by how other people perceive him.
On some level that’s what much of the movie seems to be about: the perceptions of others. There easily could have been an attempt to add mystery by withholding Ellen’s location, but instead it’s laid out for the audience. That allows us to see the way that miscommunication and Mort’s perception of Ellen, Skippy, and the town’s police leads to a situation that’s full of misunderstanding.
Perhaps it’s the way the other characters perceive Mort that leads them to not be fully honest with him. Skippy won’t talk about Ellen or his former girlfriend with Mort because Mort doesn’t seem to matter in either of those situations. His brother won’t take him serious because Mort leads too boring of a life for something like a murder to happen to him. Ellen doesn’t worry that she couldn’t tell Mort she was leaving since Mort seemed to not care that much about her.
Regardless of the situation Mort is in, Longstreet plays him to perfection. The character isn’t a great guy and he’s not overwhelmingly interesting, but in Longstreet’s hands, he becomes completely captivating. Mort spends most of the movie in a dull haze, but he has flashes of anger and moments of subtle heartbreak. Longstreet plays all those points extraordinarily well, forming the character into a fully enjoyable and memorable one.
There’s a peculiar editing choice used occasionally throughout where split-screens are used to show either multiple character’s actions or the passage of time. In some instances it’s used better than others, but at no point is it distracting enough that it really detracts from the movie in any way. Rather, it was just momentarily jarring. The real problem I had with the split-screens is the way they condense the frame, providing less of a look at the beautiful cinematography that can be seen throughout. If you look at pictures of New London, you’ll see a whole lot of beautiful scenes shot by the water. But that’s not where this film takes place. Cinematographer Ava Berkofsky finds a way to take bland roads and dark back alleys and turn them into a visual treat.
There’s no grand conclusion to this movie, but that’s alright. The actions of The Missing Girl allow Mort to reach inside himself for a way to grow. And while that may only physically manifest itself in the form of a used Toyota, it’s clear that the generally good guy we meet at the start of the movie is able to retain the good parts of his personality, while improving (ever-so-slightly) the bad.
Robert Longstreet delivers an excellent performance and helps carry The Missing Girl to a place where it's a pleasantly enjoyable character study.
The Missing Girl Review [TIFF 2015]