BUFF, Film Review

BUFF REVIEW: “With Love and a Major Organ” (2023) Dir. Kim Albright

Love in the time of Numbness


Julia Lederer’s stage play-turned-feature film, directed by Kim Albright, is a deliciously quirky indie darling, posing as a romance but unraveling into a love story about life itself. 

With Love and a Major Organ opens with the physical display of Anabel’s (Anna Maguire) mother’s heart, threads of blood-red yarn strung throughout a lush forest. After the gorgeous title card, the film dives headfirst into its absurd and successful worldbuilding that imagines the pessimistic dreariness of our internet as it were spread throughout every facet of our society. Picture radio stations that play tunes aiming to start your day with numbness, consistently gray skies, and a monotonous sense of humanity, attuned more to technological advancements in the field of numbness than anything calculated non-algorithmically. Anabel is, naturally, a gleeful and bubbly anomaly. 

In Anabel’s reality, the heart is malleable, free to be pulled out and transferred, with an effect more anachronistic than body horror, but fascinating and beautiful nonetheless. She is lucky enough to live with a full, whole lantern heart, and uses it to guide her life, rather than the ever-popular LifeZapp, which is how most everyone else in her world chooses to be guided instead. Her friends reject her offers to plan games for bachelorette parties, opting for smooth efficiency rather than anything human and therefore mistake-prone or algorithmically inaccurate.

Despite the searing satire, the film is not necessarily an indictment of a technologically-ruled world, as it criticizes numbness and emptiness most of all; it exhibits symptoms of a world overrun by the internet, but is critical of apathy more than anything. In the bodies of this creative world, without a heart, one’s chest cavity becomes filled with sand, a salty dryness where life once pulsed. 

All it takes for Anabel to fall in love is one witty conversation in a desolate city park with George (Hamza Haq), to whom she later professes her love and offers her lantern heart in a mini cooler. This physical, visceral expression of devotion reminded me of the iconic Tropical Malady quote, “When I gave you the Clash tape, I forgot to give you my heart. You can have it today.” But this leads not to a sweeping carnal romance, but instead a mischievous adventure as George plunges the glowing lantern into his own chest cavity, opening his eyes to the wonders of life – dad shirts, stopping to pet dogs, cheap coffee from coffee stands, and all. 

A notably clever detail in the film is the oft-visited “Small House of Big Feels,” a spa-style pastime for people to exert their emotions – there are rooms for joy, jealousy, stress, grief, et cetera. If it’s an ugly emotional deviance from monotony, the house has a room to attempt to exorcise it out. All the swells of emotion and life are compressed as possible, everything squeezed as tight as possible to maximize efficiency, perhaps a dangerous forewarning of a heartless future. Lederer’s screenplay pokes fun at the strangeness of technology and algorithms – yet it doesn’t veer too far into technological fear mongering, with a heavier emphasis on the beauty of curiosity, love, and life, than the terrors of the small screen. 

The film would have benefited from some more daring effects, possibly indulging in a bit of the body horror that it alludes to, especially with the viscerality of the sound and glowing lights that accompany the literally heart-pulling scenes. With a relatively quick runtime, the film also could have stretched itself further within any of its relationships – between Anabel and her mother, between George and his mother, and between Anabel and George themselves. Yet even with muddled depth, Maguire and Haq’s performances spin a lovely tale that is equal parts quirky and genuine. 

Pure, shocking originality is a consistent highlight of the films screened at the Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF), and With Love and a Major Organ was no exception, in all its heart-wringing, witty glory. Led by stellar, charming performances and buoyed by an inventive world equally dry and delightful, Albright and Lederer’s film is a memorable staple of independent romantic sci-fi, already a burgeoning genre bubbling over with talent. For all its dull gray skies, With Love and a Major Organ illustrates the colorful potential of life, making for a hilarious and sweet debut feature. 

With Love and a Major Organ
dir. Kim Albright
91 min.

Part of the 2024 Boston Underground Film Festival – click here to catch up on the Hassle’s BUFF coverage!

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