Sparrow’s Dance is an unexpected love story about an agoraphobic and former stage actress (Marin Ireland) who hasn’t left her apartment in over a year – nor has she had face-to-face contact with anyone from the outside world – and spends her days eating, sleeping and alternating between riding her exercise bike and watching television, until she is finally forced to face her fears when her toilet overflows.
Ireland’s unnamed female protagonist first tries to acquire a plumber’s advice over the phone, but to no avail. When a plumber named Wes (Paul Sparks, “Boardwalk Empire”) does show up at her door, he’s a surprisingly handsome, endearing sort of guy, who also happens to play the saxophone. He’s also awkward and unsure of himself, but his insecurities and innocuous nature appeal to Ireland’s character, and when he asks her on a date she agrees on the condition the date take place in the apartment. Afraid of scaring him away, Ireland’s character at first likes about her life, but once the truth is revealed, Wes doesn’t let her struggles with this severe anxiety keep them from forming a relationship. From there the relationship develops in a way that feels natural and true to life.
The sparse setting and plot containing only two characters make the film feel almost like watching a play, and the cinematic techniques used by writer/director Noah Bushel add to this feeling, creating an open space and avoiding a claustrophobic environment despite never leaving the apartment. Locked inside, Buschel uses small clues via her interaction with the deliveryman – who she avoids by leaving cash for the meal outside the door, or with her neighbor’s beating on the wall to notify her of the toilet leak to – speak for her condition where dialogue cannot.
This kind of plot is a challenging for the film medium, as you risk loosing the audience’s attention, but Bushel uses devices to help spice things up in what might otherwise be a monotonous setting. At one point Buschel pans all the way out, breaking the fourth wall to reveal the stage to the audience. In this scene the characters are dancing around the apartment. It is later revealed that the two characters also share a fear of stage fright, so it seems deliberate that Buschel would portray them on the stage in this way, as if they are facing their fears without even realizing it, leading each other along through the dance of life.
In another scene, Buschel adjusts the lens to close in on Ireland as she prepares for her first date with the plumber, and tricks of lighting, including a red blinking light outside the apartment window during intense conversations between the tow characters, as well as implementing clever camera angles – including a trick shot where Buschel frames Sparks in a mirror while shooting Ireland head-on – add to the visual aesthetic.
Music, and more specifically Jazz, works as another unique element incorporated into the story, so that it becomes like a third character. The woman in the small, New York apartment lives her life with the music always in the background, and it is Wes’s obsession with Jazz music that pushes him to get over his fear of the stage, and his subsequent, impending Jazz concert plays a crucial role in the film’s climax, deeply effecting both characters.
Performances by Ireland and Sparks also hold the film together, and keep the action moving forward despite the obvious challenges of shooting an entire feature film in one setting. Sparks with his eccentric charm and Ireland’s reserved uneasiness work well together, as the two characters accept and embrace one another’s oddities. Ireland’s portrayal is especially noteworthy, considering the first third of the film is her character alone in the apartment with little interaction aside from phone calls to restaurants that deliver. Ireland uses facial expressions and nervous ticks to reveal the characters hidden struggles, playing the role in such a way that conjures both sympathy and intrigue – you simply can’t look away.
Sparrows Dance is one of those rare narratives that approach day-to-day life – where nothing overtly exciting is happening – in such a way that the otherwise boring tasks of living become interesting. Despite their oddities, the characters become relatable through their authenticity, and you can’t help but root for them to succeed.
Sparrows Dance is now available via VOD and in select theaters in New York beginning Friday, August 23.