Situated in the wake of online chat rooms and JNCO jean culture of the early 2000s, Bowling 4 Eva introduces the audience to protagonist Christina— a depressed teen who passes the time under suicide watch by bowling. The 14-minute dark comedy, created by Aelfie Oudghiri, takes the surreal art of bowling alley animations and integrates it with the equally surreal, lonely world of a misunderstood adolescent.
After a failed suicide attempt, Christina is kicked out of boarding school and sent back to her lavish home in Queens where she is to be put under “the watch.” Though money is definitely of no object to Christina’s family, the household lacks the warmth and love that Christina needs -- her mother’s main concern is getting Christina to ingest her dozens of psych meds, and her brother couldn’t care less about her. To fill the void, she resorts to chatting with a pedophile AOL-style and meets up with him in real life at her local bowling alley. When her grandfather/bowling coach catches them together, her response is, “He’s a pedophile I met online. We’re both lonely.” Just as she says this the pedophile runs away and Christina grins at her grandfather emptily, followed by the frenzied crescendo of digital arcade music and flashy bowling animations on the alley screens. It’s partially comedic but also speaks volumes about the onset of loneliness in our increasingly tech-fueled world, as well as its effect on the generations born into it. Christina is not just suffering from teenage-rich-kid ennui but from the isolation, misunderstanding, and guilt from her mental illness which is only amplified by the digital noise.
In an attempt to further quell her symptoms, Christina is prescribed the fictional Tranquilia, a “loneliness inhibitor.” The overuse of medication in this film felt much like a point toward our modern-day inclination to overprescribe for things that could be treated by means of social support, and one can’t help but feel for the young Christina who lacks in this department. But of course, her loneliness is not completely external--- after all, she does have her one baggy-jeaned friend, and her sweet grandfather keeps her company too--- but her loneliness is internally held and it eats away at her. It comes to her in her sleep in the form of a talking bowling ball, who tells her she’s a burden to her family and that she sucks. As the effects of Tranquilia take over, she turns into a 3D character, enters a bowling alley animation realm, and gets berated by the talking bowling ball; the one thing she found solace in crushes her soul completely. It is tragic indeed, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the film’s (accurate) take on absurd bowling alley animations. Like why are the bowling pins having a pillow fight? Why must the bowling ball have insanely ripped arms?
Another thing this movie does right is its attention to sensory details. For instance, the sweaty hands, heavy breathing, and smacking lips of the pedophile’s character at the beginning of the film are enough to make your skin crawl. The color palette of the film was also a clever choice; reds, greens, and blues permeate Bowling 4 Eva’s digitally-saturated atmosphere. As a whole, the film blends effective sound design, color design, animation, visual effects, and narrative to put us completely in the head of the young main character. Though the internet has advanced exponentially since Christina’s time, the problems that adolescents deal with today are very much the same, and arguably to a worse degree with the effects of social media. As loneliness becomes the increasingly reported norm in the modern day, the dark themes of Bowling 4 Eva carry much more gravity.
Bowling 4 Eva screens at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 2 as part of Shorts Program #1. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets are available for purchase here. Bowling 4 Eva Director Aelfie Oudghiri will be at this screening along with a few of the other filmmakers to do a Q+A session with the audience after the show.
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