Directed/Edited by Doron Max Hagay | Written by Blair Beeken, Katy Fullan and Doron Max Hagay | Photography by Mark Daniel Quintos | Starring Blair Beeken, Katy Fullan, Tea Wagner and Pamela Murphy
Keeping all of your close friends into your thirties is a classic setup for disappointment for many, but making new ones is something of a mundane miracle. Nuclear-found-families can fray with the addition of a newcomer; routine dissolves; loyalty is unfairly tested. Doron Max Hagay’s “She Keeps Me Young” is a languid exploration of this phenomenon, centered on the sudden birth of a friendship with potentially troubling optics and the stickiness of self-righteous envy.
During their lunch break in a park, 30-something Kelly gleefully demonstrates recently-learned dance moves to 30-something Michelle, her best friend. She’s interrupted when high-school student Bridget appears, camera in hand, to ask Michelle if she might consent to having her picture taken for “a school project on strong female forms.” Michelle, flattered and surprised, consents, leaving Kelly to sit alone with no audience for her dance moves. Kelly’s jealousy is immediately apparent.
When Michelle later brings Bridget along to a night of dancing without informing Kelly, the two friends argue over whether or not it’s appropriate for 38-year-old Michelle to be hanging out with a high-school student she barely knows, and demands that Michelle take Bridget home; instead, Michelle and Bridget leave Kelly at the club and leave together to hang out with Bridget’s school friends.
During a work break the next day, Michelle awkwardly explains to Kelly that spending time with Bridget makes her feel young again, and the crucial importance that has for her. Kelly listens politely, unconvinced.
Later that week, Kelly secretly visits Bridget’s mother, who is understandably confused by the situation and how Kelly even knows her daughter. Kelly reveals that Bridget and Michelle have developed an inappropriate friendship; when Bridget receives a text from her mother suddenly instructing her to come home at once, Michelle is alarmed and concerned.
The resolution to this story is at once infuriating and easy to empathize with, not least because it’s so relatable. Maintaining any kind of closeness with another person is a practice of constant vigilance, and though we’d like to believe in magical bonds that effortlessly keep us close to our loved ones - regardless of the passage of time or distance between us - relationships typically do not obey those rules.
The friendship between Michelle and Kelly dances around codependency. For Michelle, Bridget is not just a new friend, but a way out of stagnation. There’s a real, palpable grief Michelle experiences around the sudden evaporation of their odd friendship, but it’s quickly swallowed by the return of routine. The directorial deftness shown by Doron Max Hagay’s willingness to hang on painful, banal moments that organically repeat, as they naturally do in moments of social confusion, is boldly effective.
There’s an odd, hypnotic allure to the pacing. Tender care is given to the recognizable landmarks of suburbia; stripmalls, cheap brick gardens, glaring sun filtering through lone trees standing in what once might have been a forest. Or maybe the lone tree was planted deliberately in the parking lot, for the sake of keeping up appearances.
The aching normalcy of it all is where the film finds its real power. The stakes are high in an everyday sort of way; none of these people are in mortal danger. But the subtle, slow, mundane danger of living a life that suddenly seems narrow is where they’re in trouble.
Whether or not there is anything inappropriate - or just unusual but innocent - that these two people with a solid twenty years between them strike up a friendship is a question left open. With the breadth of a feature, She Keeps Me Young could dive into Harold and Maude or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul territory, yet from the angle of investigating a toxic friendship between peers of an age with each other. As it stands, She Keeps Me Young is a somber, aching foray into aging and loneliness.
Review by Tymon Brown
You can watch more of Doron’s work over on Vimeo
She Keeps Me Young was selected and screened for our VOL. I Series, September 26th, 2018