Film Review: SHUFFLE

What begins as a gag-leaden pastiche of time travel steadily transforms into a thoughtful meditation on choices and second chances in Kurt Kuenne’s latest feature, Shuffle. Kuenne, director of the heart wrenching documentary Dear Zachary, returns with this black and white, nourish journey of one man’s temporal and emotional dislocation. Currently on the festival circuit, with a screening tonight at the Saint Louis Film Festival, Shuffle represents a step forward in terms of tackling fiction for Kuenne although the results are slightly mixed. T.J. Thyne anchors the proceedings as Lovell Milo, a world-weary photographer, whom the audience first meets frantically discussing his unexplained shifts in time to a skeptical psychiatrist.

In a narrative montage that tests one’s patrience, Milo regales the viewer with his moments of sleep-induced time travel, shifting back and forth from childhood, to adulthood, to old age, seemingly without rhyme or reason. Utilizing direct camera address and fancy cutting, the viewer is immediately absorbed into this man’s point of view. With obvious shades of Memento and Slaughterhouse Five, one is lead to believe that the purpose of this film is to discover the cause of these shifts.

Thankfully, Kuenne realizes that an entire narrative cannot sustain itself around this gimmick alone; attention slowly shifts to his personal life, namely his relationship with Grace (Paula Rhodes). His best friend since childhood, Grace is the center of Milo’s world and as events begin to coalesce into clarity, what started out as a hook without payoff becomes an elaborate mystery, with the lead struggling to find clues and puzzle together the connection between his travels and his wife’s fate. What materializes becomes less a struggle for enlightenment and more a chance for personal redemption.

To reveal more plot-wise would spoil many of the various turns that both director and cast devise for the audience. Again, while Kuenne’s success with Dear Zachary proved him a filmmaker to keep an eye out for, Shuffle opens up on somewhat shaky ground. With undernourished writing, forced line deliveries to payoff jokes that do not hold up, and an early reliance on dazzle to hide substance, this film certainly cannot be qualified as an unmitigated success.

However, the real joy comes in the hands of its talented cast. Thyne and Rhodes are genuinely electric as a couple whose lives and love for one another are entwined without struggle. Rhodes herself imbues her character with grandiose sweetness that one cannot help but fall in love with her, despite her quirks and saccharine optimism. Thyne provides a wonderful counterbalance by effectively handling Milo’s emotional waves of confusion, ebullience, and despair. As the meaning of his travels becomes clear, Thyne modulates his performance from one of reaction to introspection.

For those always looking to predict trick endings or plot twists, Shuffle may not present much of a challenge. However, once the initial setup is executed and the actual storytelling can breathe, what follows is a thoughtful exploration of life, choice, and consequence. In that regard, it finds perfect connection to Dear Zachary, and is dedicated in fact to the child himself. A problematic yet rewarding genre exercise that will deliver for those who are patient with it.

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