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‘This Close’ review: Compelling but unpolished drama

Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman star in

Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman star in "This Close." Photo Credit: Sundance Now / Gunther Campine

THE SERIES “This Close”

WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Wednesday on Sundance Now

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Kate (Shoshannah Stern) and Michael (Josh Feldman) are best friends, and also deaf. Together they understand what no one else possibly can: What’s in their hearts. Michael has just broken up with his fiance, Ryan (Colt Prattes), and is struggling to begin the second book of his graphic novel series. Kate, engaged to Danny (Zach Gilford), has a good job as an event planner in a Los Angeles public relations firm but has a difficult boss, Stella (Cheryl Hines), and clueless co-workers. Marlee Matlin also has a recurring role as Kate’s mom.

In the series’ opener, Michael and Kate travel to Seattle, while she tries to keep her secret from her friend — that she’s engaged to Danny, whom Michael barely tolerates. Stern and Feldman, who are deaf, also wrote this six-parter, which was based on a series of shorts at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s Short Form Episodic Showcase.

MY SAY Rough around the edges and shot on a budget, evidently a tight one, “This Close” looks like so many other shows and movies that make their way through film festivals in search of real money and real glory. But it’s not the looks that count here, nor the sounds. There are whole minutes that pass when only the undifferentiated din of Los Angeles hums in the background. In the foreground, Kate and Michael are sorting out an emotion they both share, or a hurt only they understand. The intimacy of this relationship — the “this close” of the title — doesn’t require spoken words for clarity, and even the subtitles feel a little redundant after a while. You almost know what they’re saying as much as they do.

Easily the best part of “This Close” is when the series takes place in the private, and silent, space that surrounds just the two of them. Kate and Michael are the core of a compelling idea — two deaf people, one gay, one straight, and the only two souls in the world who truly understand each other. They share an intimacy their other friends don’t understand, or their lovers resent. That tends to make them more isolated than they are to begin with. Meanwhile, Michael’s own self-destructive impulses — risky sexual encounters, booze and a lot of it — begin to drive a wedge between the two.

“This Close” is less self-assured when it moves beyond Kate and Michael to the world of the hearing. That’s where misunderstandings or the well-meaning but clumsy attempts at empathy are meant to supply the comic beats or the melodramatic ones. But “This Close” doesn’t work as a rom-com or an office comedy. It’s an unconventional love story that needs another season to figure out what it really wants to be, and how best to get there. At least the most important elements — or both of them, anyway — are in place.

BOTTOM LINE Compelling idea in need of a lot more polish.

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