Shotgun reminds me of that line Keanu Reeves delivers to Sandra Bullock at the end of Speed before she kisses him. “I heard that relationships built on intense experiences never work.” Shotgun, from writing and directing duo, Hannah Marks and Joey Power (making their feature debut), puts that theory, so to speak, to the test.
It stars Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) as Elliot. Save for the dreamy eyes, he’s your typical 23-year-old: He drinks, he parties, he gets laid, and he works a meaningless job in a sandwich shop. One night in a subway station, he meets wallflower, cubicle drone Mia (It Follows’ Maika Monroe) and charms her into removing her headphones long enough to chat with him for a moment. There’s clearly a spark between the two, one that is ultimately ignited by a life-threatening illness.
The next day, Elliot finds out he has cancer, and his and Mia’s relationship — like the one at the center of The Big Sick — springs out of that diagnosis. They quickly fall in love. She meets his parents. She nurses him through chemotherapy treatment. When chemo doesn’t work, they check off items on Elliot’s bucket list. In the midst of all of these heightened emotions, Elliot and Mia even get married. It’s a fairly magnificent love story that looks like it might go the way of Fault in Our Stars or Netflix’s Irreplacable You (only much, much better).
And then, through surgery, Elliot’s cancer is removed, and with it, the very thing that bound Elliot and Mia so tightly together. Shotgun is not about two people falling in love while one is dying. Shotgun is about what happens in the “happily ever after” that we never see. What happens when those emotions are no longer heightened. What happens when a couple is forced to get to know each other as more than cancer patient and caretaker.
Interestingly, and perhaps in a bad bit of timing for Marks and Power, a similar premise was taken up on The CW’s Life Sentence, only again, this is considerably better. Where Life Sentence goes for the jugular with its sentimentality, Shotgun is more restrained, more genuine. It also has the benefit of two incredible up and coming actors in Maika Monroe, who gets to switch gears from horror to comedy, and Jeremy Allen White, who can — as he does in Shameless — convincingly vacillate between charming and asshole. They are both fantastic here and their storylines are buoyed by a great supporting cast in Heroes’ Sendhil Ramamurthy, Marisa Tomei, Gina Gershon, Dean Winter, Callie Thorne, and even a cameo from Stranger Things’ Joe Keery (Monroe’s real-life boyfriend).
Shotgun is an indie flick (and a lovely one), so it’s not going for the rom-com happy ending demo, which leaves Marks and Power the freedom to make a more honest, authentic film. Much of it feels predictable, but not in the sense of having seen it in a movie before (in fact, Shotgun subverts a lot of cancer-movie tropes). It feels predictable in the sense that the choices Elliot and Mia make might mirror our own, and the consequences of those decisions are what any of us might expect if put in the same situation. It’s a great film that reminds me a lot of (500) Days of Summer (minus the quirk and the Hall & Oates) in the sense that it attempts to recreate the natural aftermath of a relationship that is built around intense events.
‘Shotgun’ originally screened at the 2018 SXSW festival. It does not yet have a release date.