30 year old Amber (Devin Dunne Cannon) has decided to leave her husband, Ethan (Daniel Fox). The two share custody of their daughter Emily. Soon after leaving, Amber finds herself falling for Logan (Bridget Barkan), and embarking on her first relationship with a woman, but their relationship is tested both by Amber’s nervousness to acknowledge it in public and by outside pressures.

The most evocative moments in Walk With Me come right at the beginning. When Amber announces, perhaps two minutes in, that she’s leaving her husband it comes out of the blue and without explanation. It’s effective, as is a shot of him standing in place as her packed boxes slowly dissolve from the frame, as if turning his back on what’s happening might stop it being real, at putting us in his shoes. Minutes later, a shot of Amber moving into the middle of her double bed articulates both the feeling of space and that of loneliness that she’s feeling. These are perhaps the last shots in the film that will surprise us with what they are saying.

Walk With Me Review - BFI FlareThere is something to be said for clichés. They don’t become clichéswithout reason, they enable a certain storytelling shorthand because we understand them, and to some degree their familiarity breeds comfort. You do, though, have to do more in a film than simply serve up cliches, and that’s where Isabel del Rosal’s feature debut falls down. It’s not that we can’t find ourselves involved in individual scenes and moments of this story, it’s not that we can’t root for Amber and Logan as a couple. The problem is that every single beat is the one we expect, and that every single scene leads inexorably on to the next beat we expect. There’s no deviation from formula, and that makes for a lengthy and ultimately uninspired 112 minutes.

Not only do the cliches come thick and fast, they are often repeated. We get two functionally identical scenes of Amber not wanting to come out about her relationship with Logan, first with friends, then with her conservative parents. Each of these is followed by an all but identical apology. It’s easy to see what Isabel del Rosal is doing here; establishing a destructive pattern, but the scenes are so close in terms of dialogue and intent that having both in such close proximity is dull. It’s not even as if the second of them raises the stakes, because both arguments are largely forgotten by the next scene. This too is an ongoing problem. Scenes raise issues that should be thorny and long lasting, but over and over again they are dropped in an instant. Ethan’s decision to leave town for a new job is argued over for perhaps a minute. The issues around Amber’s parents are just as prosaic. After an abysmal scene between Amber’s mother and father in which she, in the most on the nose dialogue possible, says that she doesn’t accept that her daughter is a lesbian, all is apparently undone with a single (equally clunky) line from Emily.

It’s a pity that so much of the film doesn’t work, because leads Devin Dunne Cannon and Bridget Barkan both give strong performances. Cannon’s performance is sincere as Amber tentatively picks her way through unfamiliar feelings. Her connection with Barkan’s Logan is credible, and there’s chemistry in the more intimate moments. Logan is more upfront; clear in her identity and willing to express what she wants, whether to Amber’s face or in song (she’s a singer/songwriter as well as a realtor). Barkan doesn’t sing the songs, but you wouldn’t know that from her performance, which delivers an emotion that matches the lyrics, and between them she and Cannon elevate the clunky writing of their scenes together, especially when their relationship is at its happiest. What Cannon can’t do is overcome the writing when it’s combined with rather wooden performances from the supporting cast.

There are a few flashes of the film this wants to be, they lie in those more expressive shots towards the start of the film, and in the chemistry as actors between its leads, but overall this is a messy debut from Isabel del Rosal. The screenplay constantly undermining what might otherwise be an affecting, if familiar, story.