Lovingly written and finely cast, Satellite is a romantic drama that follows two new lovers in New York who decide to chuck everything to live the most authentic life they can — only the thrills keep getting harder to find until the surprising conclusion.
The Game of Love
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Ro (Stephanie Szostak) and Ben (Karl Geary) travel in their own separate urban orbits until she notices him. She follows him to his neighborhood bar, where they meet, and spend the next three days together, mostly in bed. They share their lists of things they have always wanted to do (learn languages, create a great library for a kid), and they speak the way people do when they don’t know each other yet but desperately want to:
“How long have we been together?”
“Three hours and twenty minutes.”
“Do you love me yet?”
“Ask me again at this time tomorrow.”
In the fervor of their new love, she demands that he never lie to her, and he invents a game of daring each other to do everything honestly — or the other person will just walk away. They agree to these conditions. On Monday, when Ben has put on his tie and gone back to his job — he has worked his way up to a good position from the mail room — he finds he can no longer go through the motions or care about his inauthentic work. He walks out of an important meeting, calls Ro at her job, and convinces her to quit right now, too. Ro had told Ben how much she would like to tell off her horrid boss, so it comes as a nice surprise in Ro’s exit scene when she says, “Wait, just one thing:” and pulls the skinny, garishly made-up woman toward her for a long, intimate hug before she takes Ben’s hand, grabs her purse, and leaves.
When Ben brings Ro home that night to meet his brother’s family in upstate New York, he puts his nephew to bed. The boy asks him, “Are you going to marry Ro?”
“How do you know?”
“Because she makes me feel like I can do anything. You know, like a superhero.”
On the Road to Nowhere
After the money runs out, hard reality exerts its own pressures on their relationship. As in some of the French New Wave films, like Godard’s Breathless, these lovers travel a path that isn’t clear to them or anyone else. The pair finds it more difficult than they had expected to maintain the the level of intensity they have committed to.
When their characters are stressed, the two alluring actors shine. Ro has a deep reticence about her past, but we know why: she had a dad who lied, and then a string of unreliable lovers (we meet one of these slimy specimens in this film). The fetters of her past probably did not need to be explained: Szostak’s dark eyes flash her pain clearly, and her cornered-animal fury is pure.
Ben talks more about his past and Geary telegraphs his frustrations and passion on his interesting, changeable face. In the beginning, the initial contact and falling-in-love scenes had seemed slow, but by this part of the film we feel we know this couple intimately; we understand the barriers that may keep them from staying together, and we root for them just as we do our own paired-off friends.
The storytelling pace picks up in the latter half of the film, when their choices keep us wondering whether this couple will make it alone or together, dead or alive. The breathy emo-pop soundtrack complements the action and is jammed with interesting indie bands (including a song written and performed by the film’s producer, Brian Devine).
High-Concept Drama on a Shoestring
The film’s weakest link is its production. Because it was shot for well under half a million US dollars on digital video and edited to optimize it for TV or video formats, its picture and sound quality would keep it out of theaters. But the excellent writing, directing, and acting all give it the feel of a big-screen romantic drama.
The familiar New York locations are another factor in Satellite’s big-budget aura. Over eighteen days, the crew shot the film in 60 locations, but with permits for only three of them, confessed the director, Jeff Winner, even though a New York official was in the Denver audience and scolded him for his failing to credit her office in the film’s credits.
While Satellite doesn’t have the goofy humor of Raising Arizona, Jeff Winner’s excellent feature shares that cult classic’s reckless and endearing romance and idealism. The quality of this feature should assure Winner a far bigger budget for his next feature, currently titled New Man Plan.