Gamers are people, not punchlines, in the latest from Philly director Todd Wolfe
I tend to despise most films or properties that profess to be about “gamers” or “geeks,” as someone who tends to fall into those categories. After The Big Bang Theory became successful, it changed how knowledgeable people who tend to hyperfixate were depicted. While making it cool to like superheroes and Star Wars, the show did so at the cost of steeping these folks in negative stereotypes at their own expense. The bulk of Big Bang’s humor relied on the social awkwardness and ineptness of the characters, while the writers thought throwing in a comic book or Star Wars reference for those people who identified with the protagonists would make up for it. This brings me to We Need to Talk, an indie romantic comedy by Philadelphian Todd Wolfe about a cringy YouTube gamer personality, Great Scott (James Maslow), who also resides in Philly. Scott’s life is thrown into chaos when his girlfriend Aly (Christel Khalil) leaves their apartment one morning after uttering those words we’ve all probably heard at one point: “We need to talk.”
As a human, that phrase is universally dreaded for a reason — the anticipation of what happens next coupled with uncertainty of what it could bring. This has the painfully narcissistic Scott grappling with what brought him to this place in his now 10 year relationship with his significant other. Aly is outgoing, has her own friends, and has a successful career outside their apartment where Scott toils on his video game reviews. Of course they both play video games, and their apartment is littered with various gamer toys and paraphernalia. But what Wolfe understands is that these things don’t define his characters, and this whole situation isn’t played out as aspirational either; they are normal people who just happen to have these interests, and that only enriches the story, their lives, and their friendships. It’s this dynamic that lured me into the film after my brief apprehension, as Scott spends the day trying to get ahold of Aly to find out what their topic of discussion will be and turning to his internet fanbase for comfort.
But they do what people on the internet do: troll the hell out of him.
This all transpires on a day when Scott’s review for the latest in a series of big games is due, and he still hasn’t finished the game. The audience and Scott’s millions of followers are then treated to his meltdown, which finally triggers his moment of self-discovery, or so we think. The cast here is what really brings this script to life; while Maslow carries the breadth of the story, it’s his “predator” (or producer/editor) Joe (Johnathan Fernandez) who steals the show and is the heart and soul of the picture. There’s a great dynamic between the two that imbues the film with a warmth that, coupled with Khalil, allows us to see that there might be something in Scott worth saving. The rest of the cast transcends what you would expect from a home grown indie romcom, with some really engaging performances from all those involved. The only stumbles, I felt, were a few particular moments when the film felt like it was almost descending into Hallmark territory, aggressively grasping at your heartstrings only to come back with an uncomfortable laugh.
We Need to Talk charmed the hell out of me, and that was no easy task. I was honestly caught off guard by a film that delivered the laughs as well as some introspective moments that were more universal than the premise or trailer would probably lead you to believe. As far I’m concerned, it’s a near-perfect date movie that would satisfy both parties while also delivering some food for thought afterwards. Before I sat down in that screening, I didn’t know who Wolfe was, but this is the kind of film that shows the resourcefulness and craft that you don’t see a lot outside of the festival circuit, and it makes me curious to see what Wolfe tackles next. Wolfe shows he had a lot of heart and isn’t afraid to go the distance, just like another Philadelphia underdog. I just hope more folks discover it now that it’s streaming on various services.