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I discovered Writer/Director Ashlei Hardenburg-Cartagena‘s queer short film, “A Single Evening” through the 2020 Wicked Queer: Boston Film Festival. I absolutely LOVED this short! However, it wasn’t until I looked into her other films that I realized she was also the director of another film recommended to me from Mattioli Productions, Role of A Lifetime. While both films are powerful and great to watch, there’s something about “A Single Evening” that spoke to me on another level. Let’s break down why, shall we?

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Synopsis of “A Single Evening”

Minnie is single – and tired of being single. Looking for potential partners, she creates profiles on a couple dating apps: KC, MS MATCH, and TINDRNSPARK. Each profile is unique, taking advantage of each app but playing them against each other in search of different things. While at a bar, Minnie receives a notification from KC that “Someone is looking at you”. Busting into song and venting her frustration about being single amid a world that says you cannot be alone, Minnie is manhandled around the various profiles while KC chimes in from the background convincing her to keep trying. Profile after profile, guys and gals, Minnie keeps swiping left. Cliche pickup lines, rebukes, and more – and it continues even after she leaves the bar to walk somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Minnie’s phone rings. Her friend Lana is on a bad date, asking for a callback to escape him. Another KC notification, but this time KC won’t let it be and convinces Minnie to reply with something different this time. But Minnie doesn’t want to put in any effort to get to know anyone. Stepping into the picture, Ms Match chimes in with a convincing offer to help Minnie find her perfect match – for $10.99 a month, after a free trial. “I’m NOT paying for this!”, Minnie retorts as she calls her friend back. Except her friend sounds odd and hangs up, leaving Minnie upset. While KC and MS MATCH fight for Minnie’s attention, Minnie walks away. She rings Lana back – but she’s already on another date, and won’t be home later. As the app notifications continue to bombard her, Minnie yells out “Fuck!”

Returning home to their shared apartment, Minnie tries to chat with their third roommate, Adam. But he’s distracted with his own app notifications from GRINDME. Suddenly, TINDRNSPARK notifications start coming in and drag Minnie back through the sofa into a dreamlike, sensual yet erotic fantasy. “I wanna be wanted”, Minnie sings while being caressed by both a man and a woman as the beat intensifies. However, it quickly becomes the overbearing din of people just looking for fun which Minnie quickly climbs back out of. Retreating into her room, alone, Minnie receives notifications from all three apps. Instead of answering them, she turns to her vibrator!

In angst, Minnie sings about vibrators and The Pill, all while trying to satisfy herself by herself. Yet alas, it’s not the same. But returning to the apps again doesn’t help either. “Help me!” Minnie cries out, seeking anything at this point. “I don’t wanna be alone, but it makes me feel alone.” She’s done with the apps, deleting them one by one. KC has the audacity to ask “Are you sure?” – but Minnie still clicks delete. Falling back onto her bed, she sings “I’m in love with myself”. Alone, but content.

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The Critique

The story told within “A Single Evening” is one that everyone can relate to. But it especially rings true for queer folk: the feeling of being alone & searching for someone – or something – to change that. This resonates even more in this queer short film because Writer/Director Ashlei Hardenburg-Cartagena opted to take it up a notch; she wrote this queer short as a musical!

Now, I must confess that the music styles chosen for some of the songs are not my favorites. Yes, the lyrics are sharp and witty, often rhyming in a lyrical & poetical manner – but they can also be tricky to understand at times. Yet despite my personal reservation against this, all of the songs actually work perfectly where they are placed. They do a superb job of portraying the many juxtaposing emotions that Minnie feels constantly. She’s tired of being alone, but also tired of having to search through profiles of people she isn’t interested in. Frustrated at the ones who are just after a quickie, or worse, offer an offhanded insult. (Such as the one girl who questions her bisexuality!) And most of all, annoyed with all of the nagging notifications from the apps! All of this perfectly comes to a head towards the end when she cries out despairingly, “Help me!”

Which leads us to the main reason why I thoroughly enjoyed “A Single Evening”: the personification of the dating apps. What a brilliant idea! We all can relate to the annoyingly constant barrage of notifications from dating and profile apps, trying to capture our attention at all times. We hear or see that notification and get excited when it’s a message or even a match, but more often than not, it’s a message that tries to draw us back to the app. Nagging, always trying to get our attention. But a film all about app notifications on our phones would be rather boring & dull. So when Hardenburg-Cartagena make each app a person, the entire story got a massive uplift. Not only can we related to the frustrations & angst that Minnie feels at the time, but we get to watch first hand what would happen IF the apps were to come alive and speak directly to us.

Visually, this queer short film is quite a spectacle itself. Our app characters, KC and MS MATCH, stand out simply with what they’re wearing: red and white, respectively. This has another subtle nod to another pair of nagging voices in our heads: the angel and devil oft depicted as debating over our shoulders. But amid the dark and rather bland palate of color elsewhere, their costumes pop. Equally, there is a brilliant use of colour during the fantasy-like sequence; the scene also depicted on the film’s poster. The blueish purple color tone creates that loving and comforting atmospher for that moment – and looks stunning! Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t always great. I had a difficult time at the beginning because everything was dark – unless it was in a direct spotlight. While I understand the effect that they were going for, the abrupt harshness created shadows that distorted the scene too much – and is the only reason I had to knock off half a rating. Just a little bounce back of light to help soften those shadows would’ve been the icing on the cake.

And last but not least, Rebecca Hidalgo is simply incredible as Minnie! Don’t get me wrong. The rest of the cast portrayed their roles well – even José D. Álvarez‘s disinterested & distracted character of Adam works. But the focus is always on Minnie and Rebecca brings the character to life onscreen – while adding the extra element by singing all of the songs as well! “A Single Evening” works so well because of both Rebecca and Ashlei; without either, this queer short film would not have worked.

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With a short runtime of only 13 minutes, “A Single Evening” packs a LOT in as an emotionally charged musical short film. Even if you are not a fan of musicals, the way that Writer/Director Ashlei Hardenburg-Cartagena personifies the annoying barrage from dating apps makes this queer short film worth watching. Thankfully, you can stream “A Single Evening” over on Fearless, stream it on Amazon Prime, or even watch it on Plex! So take fifteen minutes and go watch this brilliant short – I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do!

Queer Relevance of “A Single Evening”

Minnie is bisexual, trying to match with profiles of both men and women. And her roommate Adam is gay. We’re queer relevant folks! However, beyond the obvious, I think that there’s a deeper queer relevance to “A Single Evening” – queer folks have a tough time not being alone.

Society pushes everyone into having a partner, and even thrusts heteronormativity onto queer folk. But the reality is that it can be difficult to find someone you’re interest in when you’re different or queer – and even harder to find someone who is interested back. Depression is unfortunately higher in LGBTQ persons, often stemming from a feeling of being alone with no one to talk to or get help from. Many of us turn to the apps to try to find something to combat this. Perhaps it’s a date, a relationship, or just a quick fuck. Sometimes it’s a mix. Yet while the apps can help us find those human connections, they also can feel just as lonely – sometimes even lonelier! That’s the underlying connection at heart in “A Single Evening”. And that makes this queer short film queer relevant.