Ren (Alana Lake) is a British transplant living in Berlin. She’s single but doesn’t really want to be. Over the course of a year, we get to see her various attempts to get lucky and find connection. That ranges from dealing with someone who seems more interested in their Tinder match than her, as well as a one-night-stand who doesn’t seem able to eat any of the breakfast banquet she’s created. She also heads off to a bondage workshop and tries speed-dating, while a lost mobile phone on one date cause all manner of problems.
Ren is living in a world where finding someone for more than a night seems increasingly difficult, and sometimes even a whole night is too much to ask.
Although presented as a single 67-minute movie, Mixed Messages is really more of a web series. And as is common in the world of ‘webisodes’, the various instalments don’t tell a linear tale. Instead, each one concentrates on a different event in Ren’s life, normally focussing on the difficulties of dating in queer Berlin. While this means that as a movie is sometimes feels a bit disjointed, it does do a decent job of creating a mood and getting us to empathise with the ennui and frustration of Ren’s life. And in case you were wondering, whilst set in Berlin, apparently everyone in that city’s lesbian scene speaks English (or at least they do here), so there’s no need to worry about subtitles.
One of the most interesting aspects of Mixed Messages is how it explores the difficulties of living in a world of varies gender and sexual expression. Ren exist within a sphere of genderqueer and gender non-conforming people, who express themselves and their sexuality in a variety of way. While this is something many of us would champion, Mixed Messages suggests it has its own challenges. For example, in a world where everyone expresses themselves in their own way and feels others must respect that, does it make it more difficult to find another person whose own expressions fit with yours? Equally, could it mean you won’t give some people a chance you really ought to?
The film/series also isn’t afraid to suggest that at times Ren is her own worst enemy. Often she seems to be at the mercy of the world around her, but every so often Mixed Messages is self-aware enough to know that often Ren doesn’t help her own cause. It helps to ensure it doesn’t seem too whiny or condemnatory of the modern world, realising that everyone is currently negotiating a world that doesn’t work in the same way it used to and that no one quite knows the rules.
All that said, some won’t be able to get past the episodic nature of Mixed Messages. There is some frustration that stories that are started and which would be interest to explore further, instead end and the characters (apart from Ren) are never heard from again. Some may also hold the very low budget nature of the series against it, which results in a few audio issues and, at times, some slightly dodgy acting. Thankfully though, newcomer Alana Lane as Ren is a very engaging presence at the centre of the show and helps ensure everything hangs together much better than it might have.
Overall Verdict: As long as you don’t mind that it’s more like a collage than an on-going story, Mixed Messages is an interesting, sometimes funny and well-observed look at living a modern life of gender and sexual diversity.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac