TIFF 2023: Joanna Arnow’s ‘The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed’

Comparisons to Lena Dunham and her various early projects, namely HBO’s Girls, or perhaps the work of Miranda July, will be immediately invited by Joanna Arnow’s debut The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed. But don’t get it twisted – this timely, hilarious, and brilliant film is all its own. 

Thirty-something Ann, played by Arnow herself, has a series of ‘sex friends’ (whose names form the titles of the various chapters of the film) with whom she has casual dom/sub-focused affairs in which she is always submissive. The most problematic of these, with Alan, has lasted almost a decade and it seems as though he doesn’t particularly like Ann. At the beginning of the film, Ann has little interest in establishing or maintaining a “conventional” relationship, much to the resigned acceptance of her family and friends. Her job is unfulfilling, to say the least, forcing her to nod along in meetings where out-of-touch middle-managers talk about staying ‘current’ by musing about iPhones and Spotify or the minutiae of her job title. Emblematic of this is a scene where Ann is given an award for a year of service, despite the fact that she’s been there for three.

Rounding out the trifecta of lenses through which we view Ann, is the familial front. We’re introduced to Ann’s mother, played by Arnow’s mother Barbara Weiserbs. She and her husband casually nag at Ann, urging her to take a banana on the train the next day and reminding her to put it in her bag in advance so she won’t forget. It all feels very tiresome in a way that’s very familiar.

The Feeling’s editing is, like Arnow’s humour and insight, is all its own. There’s a rhythm to it that captured me from the very beginning. Each scene seems to work both in a vacuum and as part of the greater whole, like a series of well-constructed comic strips of the sort that Kate Beaton excels at. There’s a kind of minimalism to it, in the way that a YouTube short or a TikTok pares a situation down to just its bare essentials. There’s no score to The Feeling, and the dialogue is largely deadpan and austere. That’s not to say that it feels disjointed as a feature, though. Instead, it feels like a mosaic, albeit not one that always evokes beauty. 

We cycle through these short scenes, each one depicting the three perspectives we have on Ann’s life. Sex, family, and work take turns in focus, and never do they intersect, except through Arnow’s dryly honest presence and commentary. Each aspect of Ann’s world has its own cast of characters, as well, but even that feels relatable, as compartmentalizing these things is how most of us get through the day, right? Just me? In any case, I think there’s something really unique in the slice-of-life-ness of these segments, even taking in isolation from the film as a whole. They seem to begin in the middle and end before a resolution. In that sense, stripped of setup or sometimes even context, there’s a realness and an intriguing voyeuristic quality that make you feel as though you walked into a room in the middle of a conversation.

Arnow, with this performance, lays herself literally bare (and is naked for the majority of the film’s runtime) here, and is honest and upfront if not mildly disconnected from her environment. It mirrors the pacing of the film, which can best be described as lackadasical, but not in a negative way. Like Ann, it drifts and allows circumstances to wash over it and then breathe, for perhaps a beat too long, and really make you sit in the awkwardness for a moment (aside: staying through the credits of this one is a bit of a trip). The dry, distanced humour eventually gives way to something charming and sweet, and is all the more tragic when Ann settles from what looks like an epiphany back into her old ways.

The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed played at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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