There’s a point in Alex Lykos’ debut film, Me & My Left Brain, that the homage to Woody Allen almost becomes too much. In a flashback to a budding relationship, two people sit on a park bench near a bridge somewhere in Sydney. The imagery of Manhattan immediately springs to mind – two people falling in love in a city that never sleeps.
The notion of a city that never sleeps, a city that’s fuelled by anxiety and neuroses, a city that continually aims to impress and entertain, is embodied in the character of Arthur (Alex Lykos), and the physical form of his Left Brain (Malcolm Kennard), as he spends one night overanalysing his life, his relationships, his career as an actor, all the while stressing about an audition he has in the morning. Over this one night, Arthur reflects on whether the girl he’s convinced he loves and can’t live without (Chantelle Barry’s Helen) is someone he’s actually in a relationship with. As Arthur stews and stirs over his life, the logic providing Left Brain tries to ground Arthur and see the world in a more reasoned, level headed way.
Just like Woody Allen, Alex Lykos puts all hands on deck with Me & My Left Brain. He writes, he directs, and he acts – this is, for want of a better term, the Alex Lykos show. The comparisons with Woody Allen continue with a script that’s full of biting observational comedy, awkward ruminations about sex, lots of conversations that skirt around the questions that people want to ask, and lots of walking on streets. It’s easy to see Lykos’ Allen-esque line delivery as an affectation designed to evoke the awkwardness of Woody Allen’s acting, but thankfully Alex Lykos imbues Arthur with enough unique traits that helps differ him from the problematic New Yorker.
Which is not to say that Me & My Left Brain doesn’t present a problematic character with Arthur. He’s self obsessed to the point of frustration, he’s ignorant to the obviously friend-focused relationship he has with Helen, and – for the most part, thanks to his Left Brain – he sees the ‘time investment’ that he’s put in with Helen as something that deserves some kind of ‘reward’ (read: he’s taken her for dinner, paid for the most expensive bottle of wine, ate anchovies, so why on earth is she not going back to his place for sex? Why?). While this is a frustration that keeps him up at night, it’s also one that he never truly accepts responsibility for.
Arthur reads too much into situations, hanging a coat on every single moment that he thinks carries weight and importance, misconstruing a pleasant text thanking him for a night out as being something more than it is, or the way she wears her hair as a subtle sign that she likes him. Chantelle Barry is lovely as Helen, somebody who is so obviously interested in Arthur as a friend and nothing more, yet because of Arthur’s ever active mind and his anxiety, he can’t see her for the friend that she is, and in turn, simply must be a love interest he has to conquer. If there’s a core criticism at hand with Me & My Left Brain, it’s the notion that for the greater part of its running time, there’s the sense that it agrees that women can’t be friends with men, and are only there to be a romantic partner. Again, a very Woody Allen-esque trait that is better left in the seventies than modern day.
At Arthur’s side all the time is the electric Malcolm Kennard as his Left Brain – a physical representation of this entity that only Arthur can see. He’s confident, logical, reasoning, and given he’s the passenger inside Arthur’s body, a little bit frustrated at how pathetic Arthur can be. If only Arthur got out of his own way, he could easily be successful and possibly even have a relationship with someone. Kennard is the perfect foil for Lykos’ Arthur – he’s a thong wearing, calm and collected bloke who keeps pushing to get Arthur to be a less anxious person. Lykos’ superb dialogue rolls off Kennard’s tongue – he relishes every line he gets, and it shows. While Malcolm Kennard has been around for a while, it’s roles like this and Pawno, that remind us how valuable a performer he is.
Equally valuable is Rachael Beck – an actress who feels like she’s been missing from screens for way too long. It’s been a long time since Hey Dad…!, and one can only hope that her role as the sexually driven Vivien reignites her film and television career. Beck flits into the narrative with ease, providing moments of genuine hilarity that help keep the much welcome lightness that the film carries with ease. As Arthur’s closest friend, Vivien provides unceasing support for him and listens to his ever winding and ever circular questions about what is going on between Helen and him. She tries to be the voice of reason, with Kennard’s Left Brain jumping in with agreement, only for Arthur’s self doubt to crash in like an unwanted guest and ruin everything.
It’s worthwhile noting the wonderfully Allen-esque ‘big band’ style score by Cezary Skubiszewski, as well as the nice observational cinematography by Kent Marcus who manages to capture a different side of Sydney than usually is shown on screen.
There’s genuine comedy gold to be found here – mostly thanks to the visual representation of throwaway jokes, such as a comment about doing most of your catching up with friends on the toilet via your phone. Alex Lykos has genuine talent with a script that works wonderfully, and direction that feels natural, albeit one that is very heavily indebted to the work of Woody Allen. Sure, it’s nice to pay homage to an artist you’ve spent an age admiring, but the elements that feel like they’re Lykos speaking for himself (a short scene around a late night trip to get milk, for example), without the shadow of Woody Allen, are invigorating. This is a fine start to a career, and hopefully it’s not long before Lykos is back on screen.
Director: Alex Lykos
Cast: Alex Lykos, Malcolm Kennard, Rachael Beck
Writer: Alex Lykos