Tendaberry is the feature film debut in writing and directing for Haley Elizabeth Anderson. In her film she takes us on a ride through Dakota's (Kota Johan) life as a 23-year old living in Brooklyn with her boyfriend Yuri (Yuri Pleskun). That is until Yuri has to travel back to Ukraine, where his family lives, to care for his ailing father. Yuri's absence, and emotional support, leaves Dakota on her own during a precarious time in both of their lives.
Built as a character driven story, Tendaberry works to establish a sprawling and intimate view of Dakota's struggles, and successes living without Yuri. The only problem is the narrative fails to establish Dakota as a compelling character in the first act of the film. Long, poetic monologues that should be building up Dakota's character often fall flat. These soliloquies feel undeserved in terms of pacing, character development, but also what she's saying. They are often consisting of Dakota professing her love of Coney Island, especially its history, and how the Nelson Sullivan videos have influenced her appreciation of her home, friends, and family.
I can understand where the constant reference of the Sullivan videos provides an allegory to the very filming style of Tendaberry. Frequent cuts, small bites of what Dakota is doing, all to provide a more granular vision of her life. But not only do the cuts to the Sullivan videos, and these monologues, feel out of place, they also stretch the pacing of the film to a painful degree. At 115 minutes, the unfortunate consequence of stretched pacing is a film that feels incredibly overlong.
Between the monologues, the first act of Tendaberry establishes the relationship of Yuri and Dakota extraordinarily. Their love and happiness is evident through quotidian acts of appreciation. We can see how safe and secure Dakota is in the world, and most importantly in her life, when Yuri is around. Things take a turn for the worst when Yuri has to go back to Ukraine for his dad, with Dakota's life being thrown into upheaval. While this change is intended to show how Dakota has a slew of problems without Yuri, the shift is unexpectedly incongruent with the first act. Primarily due to the fact that Yuri is in Ukraine as the war with Russia starts and we only see Dakota try to find Yuri maybe twice once he stops responding. How are we supposed to reconcile with the fact that the first act of the film is solidifying their relationship, and once Yuri's life is possibly in jeopardy we veer away from his existence almost completely. The result is a lack of satisfaction, or conclusion, with the entire premise of Dakota's relationship. Tendaberry is of course not a movie about Yuri, but Dakota, however the buildup of their relationship for a large portion of the film, only to use its dissolution as a means for unraveling Dakota's life felt insincere.
In the end, Tendaberry tried to do too much with not enough. Stretching a character driven film across an almost two hour runtime with a not entirely compelling character made for an arduous viewing.
I talked to a few other people that were in my screening of Tendaberry at Sundance, to gauge their interpretation and appreciation of the film. Some people felt the same way I did, some people had a much more enjoyable experience. Nobody is wrong, and that's the beauty of film or art in general. Everybody's processing of a movie is incredibly different and can be much more impactful than the next. I never want to use this platform to really bash on anyone's art, unless it deserves it like Rebel Moon, so getting a wide range of perspectives was important to me.
If watching a movie like Tendaberry is something you're interested in, then by all means don't let my words deter you! What didn't work for me, could work quite well for you. In order to promote this idea I'm pairing this film with something that I found delicious, yet also widely appealing and inoffensive. The Bohemian Brewery created 1842 Czech Pilsener is as classic a Czech pilsner as one could make. It is crisp, refreshing, has a low hop profile along with a nice malt forward flavor that brings you something reminiscent of biscuity tastes. Overall the 1842 Czech Pilsener is a fantastic choice when mulling over the multitude of beer offerings and you're thinking, gosh I just need something tasty. Well, look no further because I'm not a betting man, but I'm betting you'll enjoy this brew.