Breakups are the worst. Those three words—Can we talk?—never lead to good news. No one ever wants to talk. They just want to tell—tell you why things aren’t working, that it’s them and not you, that they’re really busy at work right now and they just don’t have time to commit to a relationship.
Sometimes when you ask someone to break up, what you’re really saying is, I want to stay together but change the terms in my favor. You break up and wait for your loving other to say, “What can I do?” Then you secretly smile and say, “No, things aren’t working out.” Desperate, the other person says "no" and "please" and "anything!" You fake-cave and lay out your demands.
But what happens when your intricately laid plan backfires? What happens when the supposed love of your life realizes your shortcomings as you try to exploit his or hers?
Filmmaker Jim Owen brings this painful possibility into a hilariously deadpan, and ultimately bittersweet, reality in the 2010 short film Can We Talk? It finds a patronizing boyfriend, Vince, attempting to break up and score a blowjob from his newly heartbroken girlfriend, Sophie. Jim gets many things right in this short film—it’s brutally honest, in a brash and juvenile way, but handled with impeccable comedic timing. It also has fake crying, so you know the breakup has to be real.
VICE: Is Can We Talk? autobiographical?
Jim Owen: That’s like asking Gaspar Noé if Irréversible is autobiographical.
Most of your work finds comedy in a person's ego battling against his insecurities. Why are you so obsessed with people's romantic fumblings?
Romance brings out the best and worst in people. I read a story recently about a guy who'd forgotten to book the town hall for his wedding. Rather than just confess to his fiancée that he'd fucked up, he called the town hall and told them he'd planted a bomb. The town hall was evacuated and the wedding was called off. The police traced the call and arrested him.
The fact he couldn't have a straightforward, honest conversation with the person he was going to spend the rest of his life with is amazing to me. What propelled him to lie to such an extent that he'd rather be a criminal?
They didn't get married, thank God. I think he's in jail.
How do you go about writing your films?
I get up early, sit at my desk, and fucking type until I’d rather do anything else. That's usually about three in the afternoon.
What do you think is the best way to maintain a healthy relationship with someone?
I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer this.... Say what you're thinking out loud as much as possible, without being mean-spirited or discourteous. That’ll sort out whether or not you can be together. And don't go into the bathroom and have a poo while your partner is taking a bath.
What are you working on now?
Finishing up a short film written by Rachel Stubbings called Good Grief. It’s about a woman uncovering a family secret following her mother’s death. It’s not really a comedy. It’s very sad and a bit funny. Once that’s done, I should probably start making something with a bit more scope. Maybe one of those longer films we all used to go and watch at the cinema.
Jim Owen is a filmmaker who makes awkward and funny little films about people and their problems. He just launched a must-see web series called Panic Stations and you can watch the first episode here. Can We Talk? came out in 2010, played a bunch of film festivals, including Sundance (garnering an Honorable Mention), and was included in one of Wholphin’s DVD compilations. Follow him on Twitter at @mrjimowen and check out his website.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall, mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.