“One Percent More Humid” tells the story of women’s guilt and grief — as told by a woman. Instead of following the melodramatic cliche of tragically heartbroken women as popularized by Nicholas Sparks adaptations, director and screenwriter Liz W. Garcia allows her characters to heal at their own pace — reflecting the realistic, painful and extremely messy process.
During the early days of summer in an innocuous college town in rural New England, Iris (Juno Temple) and her friend Catherine (Julia Garner) prepare for a season’s worth of downtime. The mood is uneasy, and the sparse soundtrack emphasizes the lack of dialogue throughout the film. Catherine’s first line sets the tone — as she steps onto the platform where Iris is waiting to pick her up for the summer, Catherine exclaims “I’m like a reverse Gandhi!” The opening scene ends on an equally poignant line from Iris, who simply says, “This summer is for healing” as the girls pass a cigarette between them.
The girls’ plans for the summer are minimal. Iris gets a head start on her senior thesis project in poetry, and meets with her thesis advisor (Alessandro Nivola) in between shifts at the local deli. Catherine suns herself at the lakeside while Iris works, and the pair lounge together at local bars and parties in the evenings.
Still, the space between the two childhood friends seems vast, and unspoken words echo loudly during frequent lulls in conversation. The silence is uncomfortable and heavy, punctuated by wide-eyed, pained looks from Iris. Theirs was a friendship that didn’t used to need words to communicate, but now they’re unable to articulate their feelings to one another despite their efforts.
The source of their tacitly avoided trauma is revealed when Iris has a fainting spell. As her thesis professor tries to care for her in this moment, Iris bursts, giving into the tremendous pressure on her conscience. She explains quickly, before the tears come, that she is spending the summer at home to care for her friend Catherine — the driver in a car crash that killed their other best friend Mae (Olivia Luccardi) on impact.
Watching the process of healing for Catherine, from the guilt of killing her friend, and Iris, from the pain of losing a friend and watching another one suffer, is uncomfortable. Both of the girls find themselves in the beds of men they shouldn’t be with, seeking comfort in the wrong arms. Iris speaks in bits and pieces about her trauma. Her thesis-advisor-turned-lover listens gently in between passionate lovemaking. Catherine refuses therapy and speaks less and less with Iris as her friend becomes enamored with her newfound lover. Instead, she seeks meager solace in the bed of Billy (Philip Ettinger), Mae’s older brother.
Through the painful steps both forward and backward, “One Percent More Humid” feels like the therapy Catherine never receives. Even during the shouting matches, whether between Iris and Catherine, Catherine and Billy or even Iris’ thesis advisor and his wife, there is a sense that the audience is learning about the characters just as they are learning about themselves.
It’s incredibly difficult to write about grief without marring sincerity with dramatization, yet Garcia intimately understands both her characters and the simple truth that there is never a straight path to a single destination. Healing takes shouting, drinking and feeling even more hurt as one sits alone by the lake, contemplating all the things that have ever gone wrong and all the ways they could have been prevented.
“One Percent More Humid” is as beautiful and incredible as seeing your mother smile for the first time after her father’s funeral. It’s talking about the things that hurt, and hurting all over again while you talk — but talking about them nonetheless.
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