Transitioning from adolescence to adulthood is never easy—especially when you want to be happy in your career instead of working in a soulless office. This is what newcomer Cade Thomas explores in the new feature film “Ribbon,” which was recently chosen for Global Indie Film Fest and won an award at the Kansas City Underground Film Festival. The one-hour comedy follows two siblings, Maggie (Hannah Gray) and Michael (Joseph Beard), who live together after Maggie moves away from their nagging parents. Instead of getting a boring office job like her brother, the inexperienced Maggie signs up for a ribbon dancing contest at a dying mall with the aid of Pearl (Debbi Tucker), a deceitful homeless woman. Meanwhile, after Michael’s boss dies, he is assigned to help the boss’ catered son, Connor (Matthew Brown), take on the role as boss.
The message of “stagnation to avoid adulthood” is very relatable, especially to college aged and post grad young adults. Michael’s misery at the office and Maggie’s fear of getting a job she won’t like are realities that will immediately resonate with audiences. With Michael accepting this misery as just a part of life and Maggie wanting more, their separate stories are a big part of what causes them to butt heads. The choice of having the film set at the duo’s dying childhood mall not only comments on the current rise of abandoned malls, but also symbolizes the siblings’ dying youth.
While the siblings are no longer kids anymore, their childhood mall is not the hot spot it once was—with all the stores now abandoned and empty. With a setting this interesting, it could have been utilized a bit more, especially given with the way it represents the characters’ impending end of adolescence. It would have been nice to see Maggie stumble upon her favorite store from her youth that is now closed up or something along those lines. It is clear from the film that there is a part of Maggie that wants the mall to be like it used to be and a part of her that doesn’t want to end up like the mall, stuck in the past and not moving forward.
Like many independent films, the editing at times isn’t perfect with some scenes lasting longer than they need to. There are scenes that could have been cut mid conversation or been shorter to give more room to focus on other aspects of the film—such as the shopping mall itself. The pacing also does take a few scenes to really find its footing. The film begins to feel complete though by the fifteen minute mark when the story picks up and the humor really starts to shine.
Once “Ribbon” finds its footing, the story begins to move much smoother and the dialogue becomes snappier. The editing gets sharper and smartly utilizes hard cuts to show the punchline of each joke. One example of an excellent hard cut is when Maggie tells Michael he’s not going to get arrested and then the scene cuts to Michael getting out of the police station. These types of jokes always landed while also swiftly moving the story along.
One of the strongest aspects of the feature is the dialogue, which is both purposefully awkward and clever. From the awkward character interactions to the blissfully naive Maggie and Connor, the film matches in tone to the work of Jared and Jerusha Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite” and “Gentlemen Broncos”). These awkward moments lead to some of the funniest bits of dialogue in the film, such as Connor wondering if “water slide” is one word or two and the recurring gag of the funeral brisket. The film additionally utilizes clever writing providing for some dark comedy that is in line with the work of Mike Judge (“Office Space” and “King of the Hill”). This is often seen with the interactions of Michael, who is more pessimistic, and Maggie, who is too trusting of everyone. Michael and Maggie make a very entertaining duo and they perfect the balancing act of being polar opposites, while still seeming like real siblings. The duo coming together in the end, albeit predictable for this kind of story, is very rewarding thanks to their fun dynamic.
Thomas made the unique decision to have some scenes in black and white and others in color. This led to some visually impressive moments, such as only the ribbon being in color during the black and white bits. I do wish this was utilized more towards the end of the film. Personally, I would have loved to see Maggie’s ribbon dance in black and white when it was just her performing and then turning into color once Michael joined her.
“Ribbon” is overall a fun and clever look at sibling relationships as well as the difficult stage of entering the job world. There are moments that lead to clever satire of the corporate world—such as the contest being sponsored by the local Olive Garden—and moments of witty dialogue, especially with the character of Pearl. Since it has the familiar vibe of outsiders trying to survive the changes that come with early adulthood, the film will please fans of late 90s/early 2000s independent films. While “Ribbon” isn’t perfect, it is surely a fun, worth-it watch that makes me excited to see what filmmaker Cade Thomas has planned for us next.
“Ribbon” is available for free on Youtube.