A dull headache behind your eyes from too much sun filling you with a swimming longing for sleep, but you can’t sleep yet, you have your father’s birthday dinner soon, or perhaps the fight that broke out within the small quarters all four of you share is still simmering — this is the drowsy ennui of a family vacation, a pocket of summertime when everything and nothing matters simultaneously. Something You Said Last Night is a glimmering crystallization of this hazy ennui; like a framed picture of a sunscreen-soaked family at the beach, Luis De Filippis’s debut offers a glimpse of the vibrant highs and the murky lows of a close-knit family on vacation. This is a deeply sensuous movie whose every turn we can taste or feel, whose every glimpse we catch seems familiar in our muscles, and even as it offers a vacation whose highs will only be remembered by the family, it is worth treasuring in its every detail for its delicately nuanced and complex protagonist.
Written and directed by De Filippis, Something You Said Last Night takes place over the course of a week, entirely on a resort in Northern Ontario. The film follows Ren (Carmen Madonia), a trans girl as she accompanies her family — her younger sister Siena (Paige Evans) and her parents, overbearing Italian mom Mona (Ramona Milano), and seemingly happily-ignorant but really knowing all father Joey Parro) — on an apparently annual family vacation. Ren is a writer who has recently lost her job and is worried about having her parents know, though she does confide about this in Siena. As the week crawls along, we see how different Siena is from Ren — Siena drinks the nights away with a local pool boy (Mi’De Xxavier Woon-A-Tai) — and from her mother. There are no cataclysmic events that take place in Something You Said Last Night, only secrets are revealed and insignificant fights erupt as they are wont to do in a family with a mother like Mona and a daughter like Siena.
The camera trails behind Ren, and we see events through her writer’s eyes, catching details and moods, the ripple of water, the dopey crawl of a wasp. Ren lazes about the resort, sleeps, eats, and swims sometimes. Compared to Siena, Ren is calm and introspective, and her voice is softer than Siena’s and Mona’s loudness. The camera never enters a space before Ren does, and as she lazes sucking popsicles or napping during the day, insects crawl sleepily about her. The light in this movie is always a hazy tangerine, like sunlight filtered through lace, or a sparkling navy glimmering with mosquitos or rain. This is all to say, watching the film feels like being wrapped in a light blanket, feels like being on vacation yourself, all the more when Mona and Siena fight.
Just as all fights had on vacation, Mona and Siena’s fights, though shot through with heavy topics, issues the family was already reckoning with, they are, within the space of the vacation, the small cabin they share, spurred on by inconsequential things. The argument ignited by Siena’s staying out too late without texting Mona, for example, is really an argument that at its core is about Siena’s lack of direction and general irresponsibility. And like all fights that explode over vacation, the ones in this film, no matter how loud they get and no matter how many tears are shed — these fights are always over by the moment it is time to leave vacation. This is why Something You Said Last Night feels like a blanket, in staying so deeply embedded within Ren’s perspective, we feel as though we occupy the same space as her, we feel as though we are right there with her on the vacation.
And this is De Filippis’ genius, this immersive storytelling. The director, the film, both let Ren just be, she simply vacations. This is, of course, not to say that Ren is within a world where her trans identity is taken for granted. There are many times during the family’s stay at the resort when a thorny kind of transphobia creeps in: some young kids say rude things to Ren, and some other older kids also say rude things to Ren. But these moments are not so much dissipated as they are swiftly walked out on by Ren, in the way a person might walk away from meanness in real life. A part of why the camera never enters a space before Ren is, according to De Filipis during the film’s premiere at TIFF, that the film is speaking to the spatial awareness that all trans people possess of necessity, the need to constantly be aware of surroundings. So often we see Ren scoping out spaces or simply not engaging with certain aspects or people at the resort. Something You Said Last Night possesses a stark realism in this sense: it depicts Ren’s vigilance, and because it commits so stunningly to her perspective, it is able to subtly communicate the unease that Ren feels as she moves through certain spaces at the resort; as the viewer, we find ourselves constantly on the lookout alongside Ren. But the film also understands its subject matter. This is a story about Ren on vacation with her family. Ren is a part of her family first, a daughter and a sister, or a writer first, De Filipis seems to say, and this is what the film is foremost concerned with.
By the time the credits roll at the end of Something You Said Last Night, it’s tough not to feel the tired sadness one feels at the end of an ultimately good vacation. Watching it, you won’t want to leave Ren and her family. Walking away from the movie, one finds oneself missing Mona’s motherly optimism to ensure that the vacation remains picture perfect — insistent and myopic energy that impossibly persists fight after fight — along with Siena’s spoiled sweetness and Ren’s tender care. Nothing much gets resolved in this movie, in the way that nothing much gets done on any family vacation. The only thing for certain after a vacation like Ren’s is the certainty of family — the warm gelling force and the knowledge that there will be another vacation just like this one next year. For better or for worse.