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A family vacation is off to a bumpy start in Luis De Filippis’ feature debut, “Something You Said Last Night.” Ren (Carmen Madonia) is stealing puffs from her illicit vape to cope with the stress of life when her disapproving mom, Mona (Ramona Milano), isn’t watching. Her sister Siena (Paige Evans) looks like annoyance personified, disgusted that she’s been dragged out to a vacation in cottage country that even their dad Guido (Joey Parro) can’t muster enough enthusiasm for to stop scrolling on his cell phone. His daughters are similarly glued to their screens as if they were waiting out the vacation so they can pile back into the car. While Siena finds a little summer love as a distraction, her sister Ren barely tolerates her mom’s incessant scolding. As tensions in the Canadian-Italian family come to a boil, just when will the arguments begin?
De Filippis’ family drama is a taut domestic number, with each character’s mounting frustration taking turns escalating into a series of volatile fights. The unspoken resentment of many years, parents’ disappointments, and the tried and true conflict of sibling rivalry pour out into the rented kitchen and living room like steam escaping from a kettle. But De Filippis’ “Something You Said Last Night” isn’t just one big family war game either. It’s just as much about the smaller, quieter pains of feeling like your parents won’t listen, or your kids are disrespecting you. Her camera captures both sides' silent eye rolls and exasperated sighs. No one is an outright villain, and everyone feels like they’re in the right about picking each fight. Perhaps what's most is disturbing is how familiar this drama feels: sisters fighting over petty things and trading catty insults to get back at one another, mom’s needling questions and her outsized responses when she gets an answer she doesn’t like, dad looking silently on, a touch hurt and maybe even confused as to why everyone else is screaming loud enough to be heard outside. Yet, these few moments of peace, of inside jokes and hugs, prove there’s more to this family than verbal spats.
Although there are conflicts aplenty, from arguing over a hat that takes a surprising amount of time to resolve to barely tolerating a pottery painting session with mom to not texting after leaving all night, De Filippis almost entirely skips mentioning that her main character is a trans woman. Ren is just who she is, and although the family fights can get pretty mean, no one picks on her for being a trans woman. She is accepted by her family, and even if she butts heads with her mother almost constantly, Mona is the first to defend her daughter against any ignorant comments. De Filippis, also a trans woman, focuses instead on exploring the relationship dynamics in the family and their many highs and lows in a few short days.
Madonia, who plays Ren, finds the perfect sense of mid-twenties millennial ennui—that uncertainty about the direction of one’s life, the creeping sense that there’s more to the world than you may possibly afford, the clashing desires to be independent but still need the occasional parental support. Tall and willowy, Ren is one of the calmer personalities in the group, but she’s just as expressive when it comes to her body language, betraying a little childish resentment whenever fighting with her mom or sister. She’s had a taste of independence away from home and doesn’t want to give it up or feel like a burden to her parents. Ren acts guarded from the rest as if she is keeping an emotional distance even if she knows she has to move back.
Playing up that sense of bygone family vacations, De Filippis and cinematographer Norm Li filmed “Something You Said Last Night” on 35mm, giving the movie a nostalgic quality that makes even a crowded shoreline and sandwiches in the sun look good. De Filippis surfaces these memories and feelings in a way that is specific to this family but is very relatable for any one of us who have fought with siblings in our adulthood, unsure how to break bad news to our parents, and how coming out as a writer will always disappoint moms. This family isn’t picture perfect, but the way De Filippis tells their story is pretty flawless.
Now playing in theaters.