2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Lost Transmissions’

April 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

Juno Temple and Simon Pegg in "Lost Transmissions"
Juno Temple and Simon Pegg in “Lost Transmissions” (Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens)

“Lost Transmissions”

Directed by Katharine O’Brien

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2019.

It’s not easy to do a romantic drama about two people with mental-health issues. The story has to handle the issues in a respectful and believable manner in order not to be too offensive. But the romance in the story has to be appealing too—and that’s where “Lost Transmissions” falls short. Unfortunately, the two lead actors in the movie—Juno Temple and Simon Pegg—are frustratingly mismatched in portraying a couple who have a tumultuous relationship while they navigate their careers in the Los Angeles music industry. Temple and Pegg are very talented in other movies, but watching them trying to create chemistry together that doesn’t exist in “Lost Transmissions” is almost painful to watch.

When we first meet aspiring singer/songwriter Hannah (played by Temple) and music producer Theo Ross (played by Pegg), it’s at a house party where he’s the jolly center of attention, playing the piano, and she’s a little bit on the shy side. Theo is able to bring Hannah out of her shell a little bit by encouraging her to sing while he plays. They exchange phone numbers, and the next day, Theo calls her and invites Hannah over to his home studio, where she’s very impressed by his unique collection of musical instruments.

During their date, Hannah confides in Theo and tells him that she’s on anti-depressants, and she once tried to commit suicide by driving into a tree. Most people don’t share this kind of information on a first date, so it’s the first sign that Hannah is one of those people who’s addicted to personal chaos. Hannah says, “Sometimes I feel stuck in glue, and I feel like I might never move again.” Theo has a sympathetic ear, and he hints that he also has a troubled past, but he doesn’t go into too many details.

Theo offers to help Hannah with her music career, so he puts her in touch with a music executive named Darron (played by Robert Schwartzman), who hires Hannah to write songs for a young pop star named Dana Lee (played in a hilarious cameo by Alexandra Daddario). Dana is a social-media-conscious nymphette with multicolored hair (think Ariana Grande meets Billie Eilish at Coachella) who has more natural chemistry with Hannah than Theo does. Hannah and Dana’s budding friendship, which is so entertaining to watch, unfortunately has very little screen time in this movie. It makes you wish that a movie was made about Hannah and Dana instead of Hannah and Theo.

British actress Temple has made a career out of playing pouty, American women who find it difficult to be happy, so she’s definitely in her comfort zone here as an actress. The problem is that she’s paired with the wrong actor—and it’s not just because Pegg is known for playing mostly comedic characters. Together, Pegg  and Temple are just not convincing as a couple in love. At times, watching this movie feels like watching awkward rehearsals of a play.

Theo and Hannah continue to date, and they think that they’re in love, even though it’s obvious that they’re wrong for each other. It turns out that Theo has even darker problems than Hannah’s depression issues. On the surface, he seems to have it all together—he’s a respected musician who makes a comfortable living as a producer of indie rock acts. But in reality, Theo is actually schizophrenic—and it doesn’t help that around the time that he’s met Hannah, he’s stopped taking his medication. Theo’s mental illness is also exacerbated because he’s had a long history of taking psychedelic drugs such as LSD or mushrooms—a habit that he goes back to during his relationship with Hannah.

When he’s off his medication, there’s nothing to like about Theo. He has angry outbursts, he’s selfish, he’s unreliable, and (this is where the title of the movie comes into play) when he plays static very loud on the radio, he thinks he can hear messages in the transmissions. It’s clear that Theo is headed for a major nervous breakdown, but Hannah—like so many of the type of co-dependent women who go on TV shows like “Dr. Phil” to talk about their toxic relationships—thinks she can “fix” Theo, or at least help nurse him back to health. According to “Lost Transmissions” writer/director Katharine O’Brien, the movie is inspired by real-life experiences that she went through with a male friend who was schizophrenic. Let’s hope that she handled it better than Hannah does in this movie.

When Theo’s mental deterioration leads him to be evicted from his home, none of his longtime, close friends want to take him in, because they say that they’re too busy with other commitments. (Red flags right there.) Hannah, who hasn’t been dating Theo for very long, ignores these warning signs and agrees to let Theo move in with her instead of immediately getting him professional help. Making that kind of bad decision in the name of love might be understandable if Theo treated Hannah better, but the sweet-natured Theo that Hannah met at the party is long gone.

Hannah doesn’t deserve much sympathy here because she makes excuses for Theo’s horrific behavior. There’s a scene in the movie that is an example of this destructive enabling: Theo, Hannah and one of Theo’s pregnant friends are passengers in a car when Theo, in a fit of rage, lunges at the driver and tries to get the driver to run off the road, which could have caused a serious accident. Eventually, the driver takes control of the car, and they pull over on the side of the road. The pregnant woman is understandably furious, and tells Theo that he’s “dangerous.” Hannah protests and says that Theo is just “scared.”

When Theo’s behavior gets worse, and Hannah finally decides that he needs to be in a professional facility, Theo inevitably ends up in a psych ward. But Hannah (who’s obviously not qualified to give medical advice to Theo) continues to be part of the problem when she tells Theo that he can “outsmart” his schizophrenia. Then the movie veers into a subplot where Hannah tries to get Theo to go back to his native London and make amends with his estranged father. At this point in the story, you’ve stopped caring about this badly mismatched couple, and you can’t wait for the movie to be over so that you don’t have to ever see them again. If the person who inspired the Theo character had this kind of relationship in real life, let’s hope that they’ve broken up and stayed away from each other, for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

UPDATE: Gravitas Ventures will release “Lost Transmissions” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on March 13, 2020.