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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Film Review: “18½” (2021)

The Most Fun You’ll Have with Watergate Is This Movie 
by Joseph Perry
Director Dan Mirvish presents a highly amusing, thought-provoking take on the 18½ missing minutes of the Watergate tapes. Part comedy, part thriller, and all captivating, 18½ blends genres and blows minds.

Connie Lashley (Willa Fitzgerald) is an Office of Management and Budget transcriptionist, and she has just accidentally found those infamous 18½ missing minutes while going through the routines of her job. She contacts newspaper reporter Paul Marrow (John Magaro) to leak the information to him before she has to return the tape to work on Monday, when her boss would notice its absence. Meeting at a diner — a scene that sets up the story and establishes these two main characters brilliantly — Paul suggests that they check into a nearby motel, posing as a married couple because they must keep their identities secret, to listen to Connie’s reel-to-reel tape. But their plan won’t be easy to execute.

Standing in the way of listening to the tape are a broken tape machine, an over-talkative motel manager (Richard Kind), a hippie philosopher (Sullivan Jones) and his followers, and a middle-aged biracial couple (Vondie Curtis Hall and Catherine Curtin) who seem interested in engaging in some seventies-era free love with Our Heroes. As if these weren’t obstacles enough, other factors add to the mounting tension and paranoia, such as a man fishing close enough to the window of Connie and Paul’s motel room to be considered a threat.

Mirvish, who cowrote the clever screenplay with Daniel Moya, has crafted such a richly authentic world of the seventies that it boggles the mind. The attention to detail from dialogue to costumes to set design is outstanding. The film is also shot in the style of classic 1970s thrillers. 
In the first-act diner scene, the film establishes two likable protagonists who viewers can easily get behind, and Fitzgerald and Magaro bring them to cinematic life marvelously, displaying terrific chemistry together. The supporting players are also solid, with Hall and Curtin’s passionate pair providing plenty of uncomfortable moments for Connie and Paul and, by extension, the viewers.

If you have never thought it possible to get amorous while listening to a tape of President Richard Nixon (Bruce Campbell) talking with his Chief of Staff General Al Haig (Ted Raimi) and his previous Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (Jon Cryer), the highly recommended 18½ has this and many other surprises waiting for you. 

18½ made its U.S. television debut on Starz on February 1, 2023.

Directed by: Dan Mirvish
Written by: Dan Mirvish and Daniel Moya
Produced by: Bugeater Films, Kyyba Films, Syncopated Daydreams
Genre: Comedy, thriller
Runtime: 1 hour 28 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: January 17, 2023

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