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3rd April 2022

MANIFF 2022: 18 1/2

MANIFF 2022: 18 1/2 combines wit, romance, thriller and politics to create a highly entertaining 70’s comedy
MANIFF 2022: 18 1/2
Photo: Ellie Schneider @ Waterbug Eater Films

18 1/2 is the newest film by indie director Dan Mirvish, set in 1974 amid the Watergate Scandal. The film is a work of speculative fiction that investigates what happened to the missing eighteen and a half minutes of the famous Watergate tape.

It follows Connie, a transcriptionist, as she discovers the tape and drives to a remote town to meet Paul, a journalist from The New York Times, so he can get the scoop on its contents. The pair try to listen to the tape, checking into a motel as a fake married couple, but are thwarted by a broken tape player. Desperate to hear the recording they meet some conspiracy-obsessed hippies, an incessantly chatty receptionist, and an eccentric married couple who are hell bent on getting them to come to dinner, all in an attempt to listen to their tape.

18 ½ was surprisingly funny. Going into the theatre knowing little about the film, I expected it to be a serious political drama, and so the caricaturesque characters, jaunty music, and the classic ‘strangers pretending to be a couple end up actually liking each other’ trope were a nice surprise.

Aside from the romantic trope, the film was refreshingly unpredictable. The ending had a subtle but clever twist, undermining everything that the film had nicely set up, and with Mirvish leaving the revelations to the audience rather than obviously retracing his steps back through the film.

I really appreciated the costumes and sets too – in a Q&A after the film, Mirvish said that the motel that they used as a set had not really changed since its heyday in the 1960s and 70s, so much of it was accurate to the period.

The casting was also well done; Willa Fitzgerald and John Maguro had the perfect awkward chemistry which made their eventual almost-tryst very believable, and Catherine Curtin’s performance as an ostentatious Parisian, while seeming over-acted and melodramatic at first, makes a lot of sense by the end…

The only criticism I really had was the sound mixing because when parts of the eighteen-and-a-half-minute tape were played, it was difficult to focus on what was said. But I actually changed my mind on this because of Mirvish’s Q&A – he said that the tape is a ‘MacGuffin’, something that is crucial to the plot of the film but unimportant in itself. The contents of the tape never actually mattered, and so when I was too distracted watching Connie and Paul awkwardly remove each others’ clothing to listen to the tape that was playing in the background (probably the least sexy tape to ever be on in the background), that was the point!


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