Friday, May 3, 2013
"The people around you don't see how amazing you are. But I do," insists the first mysterious letter Nicole (Michelle Giroux) finds on her doorstep. It's something of a fan letter to a person who didn't know she was someone's celebrity. The letter is riddled with the purple rhetoric of Oprah-spun self-help, is inspiring and flattering and elevating. There's nothing explicitly unlivable about Nicole's life: she's married to a workaholic, the mother of two not-uncommonly demanding teenagers, works as a pill counter at a pharmacy, and is on the cusp of forty-one. No one in her life sees how amazing she is; she doesn't see how amazing she is. Suburban ennui is the trouble: Nicole's life isn't terrible--it's just not phenomenal. The letters continue to come, both comforting Nicole and urging her out of her comfort zone. Though conceptually creepy, the letters, at the beginning, are never anything more than laudatory. I'm sure everyone in the audience would love for themselves to be put under such a loving microscope. And this is the bait at the end of director Sean Garrity's hook. As soon as we're caught, the letters begin to get literally creepy.
Blood Pressure is an unassuming movie. Stylistically it's calm, observant. It maintains more of an interest in its characters than its events. As the letters come in, the style doesn't hang a lantern on the dubious turn that may or may not come. We're never quite sure what kind of movie we're watching. The first half of the movie sometimes threatens to become a typical Meg Ryan popcorn fair: there's a secret admirer out there who wants nothing more than to see our main character happy. What this does is align the viewer with Nicole. Along with her, we ignore the suspiciousness in favor of the flattery--or, also in line with her, we struggle to ignore it. And so when it comes time for the screw to turn, we feel her reticence. And it's this connection to character as much as plot that's fundamental to Blood Pressure, because if this movie's about anything, it's about empathy, about the benefits and consequences of caring for a person and being cared for by a person.
Blood Pressure's carefully-wrought tension is two-fold. One one hand, there's the mystery itself: we know as little about the letters' source or end game as Nicole does. The first half of the film (up until the plot is revealed) cooly sustains a don't-go-into-the-basement tautness as Nicole further engages with her admirer's requests. And, running alongside the thriller-movie element, is the empathetic tension: how will all this sneaky weirdness affect Nicole's life, her family; will she or won't she--should she or shouldn't she--live up to the idea her admirer has of her; will the people around her see how amazing she is?
This sounds like a simple mix, but it occurred to me only afterward, thinking on the movie, how rarely a balance between caring about plot and caring about character is achieved. Blood Pressure is full of chances to devolve into a flat genre film, but it never does. No matter the genre it skirts, it is always a movie about being human, and humane, and the attending rewards and strife.