Directorial debuts are always so interesting to look back on with hindsight. Throughout the breadth of many infamous careers, we can see trends that start to come out with what they are trying to say with a first film. Maybe it could be going into a particular genre like Michael Mann’s Thief, showing a kind of criminal realism and hypnotic stylization he will then evolve with and pioneer. Then there are those that also come out with something to get off their chest, politically or personally, that they feel so strongly about they have no other choice but to write and direct themselves, like Jordan Peele’s Get Out or Harmony Korine’s Gummo.
Wherever their careers may lead after the first feature, we can see these filmmakers have a certain feel to them, taking from the past influences and using them in creative ways to homage while being their own story.
This is the case with You Still Have Time, a harrowing and arresting debut from writer/director Peter Nogueira that feels like it could have come out in 1974 as much as it feels welcome in 2019. Borrowing from early 70s John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese to recent outputs of Kenneth Lonergan or Derek Cianfrance, just as much as Noguiera creates his own captivating sense of visual storytelling and thematic interests. We follow two loners that happen to meet and sleep together one night, shortly after Beth White (Emily Kokido) discovers she is pregnant. 23 and distraught with fear and anxiety, scared to even have a kid when she herself is figuring things out, working as a caricature artist while still living with her single dad, Jim (Michael Balzano III).
Beth struggles to come to any easy answers with Alex “Doc” Price (Ian Brownhill) by her side, an enigmatic driver who is haunted by a troubled past. Sporting the look of a man who fights for each day like he is okay with it being his last, Alex is an old soul tethered to a man in his mid 20s. The two come together to deal with conflict with no right answers and even less concrete ones, and the reconciliation with themselves becomes the primary focus of their lives. There is a line in the film where we see Alex and Beth have a frank and open conversation about the predicament when Alex outright states that “everyone needs saving and some people just don’t admit it.” It becomes more clear later on that this is not only the struggle of the two characters buried deep inside, but the thesis of what Nogueira is trying to grapple with.
You Still Have Time is a strong showcase from breakout Ian Brownhill, who plays Alex with as much intensity as he does fear. In nearly 90% of the film, Brownhill’s eyes do most of the talking (in a few scenes that would spoil the picture in particular) given he wears wavy, slick back hair and a thick and bushy beard, communicating the lack of motivation without life guidance. You can tell that this is a haunted man who never lets a second go by without thinking about his past, thus outright rejecting any kind of happiness until Beth comes into his life. Like the presence of a young Peter Falk or Ben Gazzara, having to say so much and containing an abundance of fear with just one look.
Even then, You Still Have Time never rushes Alex’s arc to fit into any narrative function or support Beth’s, but sitting with this broken man slowly piecing after so many years of discouragement. The last twenty minutes (which are some of the most outstanding in the film) is where we finally begin to see Alex come to the conclusion that he is finally ready to admit what Beth had lead to him to feel.
Alex Price is someone who never seemed like he conquered the past, (nor wanted to) and though spoiling the event before the film would be taking away the emotional core of it, Brownhill never fails to show sympathy in a lost soul.
Kokidko’s turn as Beth is especially striking here, playing a tricky tight rope act with her performance of hope and fear (compared to Brownhill who’s take on Alex is all fear and self resentment). Caught in a complicated intersection between wanting to do the right thing at her young age and all without the proper guidance, Kokidko consistently has an optimistic undercurrent that always has her all the more sympathetic.
Her job as a sketch artist lends credence to the major internal struggle, seeing the core outline of people never filling in the rest. No other friends are seen with either protagonist, so the fact that Beth is exposed to so many is an example of that core contradiction. Though Nogueria may favor Alex’s arc much more than Beth’s at times, she never feels entirely thankless. This is a two-way dance of people who feel like they can’t escape the past and have full blame for it.
Nonetheless, Michael Balazano as Jim White is very much a welcome scene partner for her in some of the film’s most emotionally tense scenes. Often times, roles like the paternal figures can feel stale given they typically operate as the source of reason when the character surrounding them needs a sense of rationality. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Jim, although that never makes him more banal. Playing the everyday dad comes with the challenge of not having a set guideline of what that character may look like, how Jim was colored in was all up to Balazano and I am really impressed with his work here.
Jim has such collected demeanor about him that puts Beth (and by result, the audience) at ease, while never feeling like this pregnancy is a conflict for himself and Beth. Instead, the anxieties surrounding it, all without knowing what to say to make her feel better. Nor is he ever presented as the antagonist opposing Beth and Alex as he so easily could have been in a less intelligent script, opting for a more mature and reasonable stance with full knowledge that he isn’t the person that Beth can talk to about her situation. He only does what he feels is right.
The cinematography by Ben Petersen and Nogueira himself is vibrant and stunning. Together they manipulate light to what truly makes the picture an even better source of eye candy despite never overtly going out of their way to make every shot picturesque (like you can sometimes notice with Emmunel Lubski cinematography). It doesn’t feel like Nogueira and Petersen are trying to show off what they can do with a camera, but it comes off as the opposite. The camera hardly moves, with many scenes of intimate vulnerability executed in limited takes and close-ups. Giving a more cold, sterile approach to the camerawork helps with the emotional depravity and moodiness throughout.
This is a romance and a drama but more than that I see it as a tragedy, a tragic tale of those that need help but can’t on their own. Almost as if it were in reverse, with Alex and Beth not falling from their stability but a slow rebuilding. You Still Have Time is ultimately about redemption and how the key to redeeming one’s self is co-dependence.