I've always liked the idea of blind dates and the sense of mystery and unlimited possibilities they carry. But for all the excitement and your well-meaning friends who think you'll be perfect for each other, bad blind dates happen all the time. And when they do, they are often really, really bad. (The one and only blind date I've been on involved my date taking a shit in a stranger's yard.) Michael Mohan's SXSW Grand Jury-winning short film Pink Grapefruit (full disclosure: I was on the jury), rightly approaches that precarious blind-date/romantic-comedy situation like it's a horror film—a thing to approach timidly, feared even, where you don't know who is going to come out the other side alive.
The film opens with the classic horror tableau of hot young people driving to a house in the middle of nowhere (in this case Palm Springs, California). The iconic Kubrickian camera zooms and the cliché criticisms from the set-up single girl are all there: "I'm not trying to be negative, I'm just telling it how it is," and "these things never work out." She, of course, is being shepherded to her future lover by a seemingly happy couple that is positively giddy about their matchmaking skills.
Mohan, a consummate cinephile in his 30s, has already amassed an extensive filmography, including five other shorts, two feature films that both premiered at Sundance, and a handful of commercials and branded content. His filmography is diverse, ranging from rom-coms to pitch-black comedies, to introspective middle-age fare. Love, and the blossoming and decaying of it, is at the center of many of his stories. So it's incredibly satisfying to see a film like Pink Grapefruit that succeeds as the culmination of an artist's oeuvre, where dark humor seamlessly blends with gentleness, warmth, and romance, while each character feels fully formed and everything that needs to be conveyed is and everything that doesn't isn't. Plus, he did it this time in just over ten minutes.
I recently spoke to him about Pink Grapefruit and the inspiration for his film.
VICE: What's your relationship status? Too personal?
Michael Mohan: I am married actually.
Did you meet [her] on a blind date?
We met (not joking) on Friendster. That's right. Friendster. But our actual wedding ceremony holds a key germ in the concept of Pink Grapefruit. So, even though I'm not a religious person, we took our ceremony very seriously, actually having our friends read some of our very first Friendster messages to each other aloud. We wrote our vows ourselves. It was the most intense and amazing moment of my life.
Well, a few days later, we learned that three of the couples that had come to the wedding broke up on the ride home. They couldn't ever see themselves saying what my wife and I said to each other. On the flip side, a different couple pulled over to the side of the road on the ride home and got engaged. And two other couples are pretty certain that our wedding night was the night they got pregnant (one of whom with twins).
I think as we evolve from young adulthood into normal adulthood, it's only natural to measure our happiness and success by comparing it to those around us, whether it be our careers or relationships. And it has a tangible impact on our lives. I think there are a lot of movies to be made out of this core concept, but with Pink Grapefruit, I distilled it down into the simplest possible form.
Pink Grapefruit has a really unique sensibility. It's patient and nuanced in both style and script. Can you talk about how you approached making this short?
I think the basic concept of having to spend a weekend with a total stranger in the hopes that I'd fall in love is absolutely terrifying. So even though the movie is just a relationship story, we decided to shoot it like a horror film. The only difference is that at the point in the movie where one character would stab another, that's when they have sex.
The editing really makes the film stand out with its smart use of sound, jump cuts, and juxtaposition. Did this style come about in editing, or did you know you wanted to do something different from the start?
We planned this out from the get-go. I was really influenced by Sarah Flack's editing in The Limey, just how while the characters are talking about something else, we can visualize the subtext. Here it happens twice, when they first become physically attracted to each other—one of the characters is telling some completely inconsequential story as the two of them check each other out. Later on in the story, when we see them emotionally connecting but none of the dialogue matters, we just hear the sound of the juice being squeezed out from the fruit they picked.
Can you talk about the setting of the film? What was it about Palm Springs?Palm Springs is a manufactured paradise in the middle of a dry desert. For the other couple, who are a bit on the outs, I just thought that was a neat metaphor.
What are you working on now?
I'm really focused on my new feature film. It's called The Ends, and it's a pretty ambitious look at the life of a young woman from age 22 through 35, but solely through the lens of her breakups. Every single scene in the movie is a breakup scene; we want to show how our past relationships shape the person we ultimately become. I've just finished writing the script with Chris Levitus (co-writer of Pink Grapefruit), and couldn't be more excited to be working with this fantastic New York-based production company, Big Beach Films (Little Miss Sunshine, Safety Not Guaranteed, Kings of Summer).
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as the senior curator for Vimeo's On Demand platform. He has also programmed at Tribeca Film Festival, Rooftop Films, and the Hamptons International Film Festival. Follow him on Twitter.