When friends Jessie (Ari Anderson) and Belle (April Kelley) go away for the weekend and drunkenly hook up, what seems like an awkward slip up to a firmly heterosexual Jessie is in fact an incredible betrayal to bisexual Belle. Directed by Rosie Westhoff and written by lead actress Kelley, who previously appeared in brilliant short film Annie Waits which you can find reviewed here.
Mixing friendship and sex is not something that’s often a recipe for success and Treacle is definitely an example of a time where it simply makes things incredibly complicated As the film opens it immediately has the classic air of America set indies, young characters, the bright natural lighting, scenic streets and driving in a beat-up yet classic looking car; it even almost feels a touch like Alexis Zabe’s work on The Florida Project…but a nicer neighbourhood. When you first encounter Jessie and Belle on screen together, there’s no knowing of how long these two have known each other but the immediate chemistry and natural banter makes it seem like they’re old friends and it’s extremely easy to find yourself quickly invested in what’s in store for them.
Cinema is currently in a phase of embracing modern female friendship and it’s refreshing to see, rather than having women fighting over a man or falling out because of something they said behind the other’s back, actually having them living life and supporting each other. The story might dissolve into a heavy mess of post-sex consequences, it begins in the simple manner of one friend being there for another after a breakup. When they arrive at what is to be deemed, not inappropriately, by Jessie as the “crazy sex house”, the very L.A. living, glaring sun, swimming pool and most importantly, realistic female characters feels reminiscent of HBO’s Insecure. Additionally, for an 18-minute short film, the production value is incredible, at not one moment does the set-up feel like a project that couldn’t easily have been a series or full feature.
On their way to the house, their brief stop to pick up supplies ends up with Belle sat in her car across from a young boy with a less than desirable attitude, making plenty of gestures you’d expect from a 12-year old. It’s simple and funny and feels like Taika Waititi’s early short film Two Cars, One Night; there isn’t a huge amount of time for comedy but there’s enough offhand humour to make the story more relatable and sympathetic.
The film tackles the issue of the casual way that media generally treats bisexuality, either through throw away comments or referring to characters as bisexual because they’re closeted gays that have sex with the opposite gender. There are always consequences to friends who sleep together but the reckless way that Jessie decides to jump in bed with Belle comments on that casual negativity, that she hadn’t begun to think about how Belle would be affected because for Jessie it would be just sex. At the peak moment of this, as the women have a very awkward 4-hour drive home, the tension is overflowing and makes you feel like you’re physically trying to pull back from it until the moment passes.
Treacle is relatable, refreshing and visually superb. It’s warm and funny but filled to the brim with tension at just the right moments, telling a familiar story from a fresh perspective.