Featuring a deft ensemble and a fascinating topic, Dan Mirvish’s 18 1/2 keeps the audience on their toes for a mix of genres that is certainly never boring.
Willa Fitzgerald stars as Connie, a tape transcriber for the Richard Nixon White House in 1974. In the thick of the Watergate scandal, Connie stumbles upon a recording of the infamous missing 18 1/2 minute gap in the Nixon recordings. Realizing the enormity of what she has found, she contacts reporter Paul (John Magaro) and meets him at a remote hotel to discuss it.
Connie and Paul pose as newlyweds to the hotel owner Jack (Richard Kind) and check in to a room. They discover Paul’s tape player doesn’t work with Connie’s tape, so they ask around the hotel for help. They run into a group of Wonderbread-hating hippies led by Barry (Sullivan Jones) and an older couple Samuel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and Lena (Catherine Curtain), who might have more on the brain than just providing a tape player.
Described by Mirvish as a mix between Three Days of the Condor and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but funnier than both those films, it feels like an apt comparison. There is a hovering layer of paranoia behind the proceedings, but interpersonal dynamics but their heads in as well. While the actual content of what is on the tape plays a role, the physical existence of said tape becomes the more important factor.
Fitzgerald provides the anchor on which the audience can relate. She didn’t look for this tape, but it fell into her lap. He inherent likeability and matter-of-factness provides a modern outlet to see this retro story. Magaro is jittery and nervous, which adds to the mood of paranoia. The two make an unlikely pair, but one that makes sense the longer they spend time together.
The supporting cast doesn’t miss a beat. Every line and appearance from Kind is pure joy and hilarity. Curtis-Hall and Curtain make a sweet duo that ratchets up the weird. Jones feels like he came out of a different movie, but in the best way. The voice actors (Bruce Campbell, Jon Cryer, Ted Raimi) do a spectacular job on the tape as the famous voices, as well.
With 18 1/2 Mirvish has crafted a throwback 70s paranoia thriller but added in his level of eccentricities to deliver a memorable fun film.
The film releases in select theaters on May 27
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