“Love is a science, not an art.”
Written by Lucy Heath and directed by Ellie Heydon, the short film Pragma opens with a bold statement that sets the tone for this thought-provoking romantic comedy.
Heath carries this film with confidence as she steps into the utterly relatable starring role as Willow, a woman taking part in a program that algorithmically matches people with their perfect life partner. Groups of participants remain on-site at the institute and spend a week participating in a variety of compatibility assessments that range from intimate, to entertaining, to downright awkward.
Ted Lasso‘s Phil Dunster trades in the soccer cleats and cocky swagger for something far sweeter and more alluring in his character Jack, a fellow participant whose easy smile Willow immediately finds herself drawn to. (This marks Dunster’s producing debut, a role which he took on alongside Fay Mohamed.) Despite Pragma‘s limited runtime, Dunster and Heath make the most of flaunting their palpable on-screen chemistry with soft glances and heated gazes, swiftly pulling viewers into the orbit of their shared longing. This is further elevated by the comfortable, intimate way that Heydon’s directing and Simona Susnea’s cinematography frame their scenes. Dunster is also accompanied by another familiar face from Ted Lasso, Nick Mohammed, who deftly rounds out the film’s more comedic moments.
Pragma functions well as a short film, providing viewers with just enough pining, laughter, and emotional beats to smoothly carry the plot upward toward its pointed, provocative climax and then to a satisfyingly fitting ending (inviting plenty of introspective thoughts in the aftermath). Keenly aware of its runtime, it makes the most of each and every minute.
The world Heath has begun to build here has ample potential to be fleshed out into much more though, like a feature length film or a miniseries to further explore other facets of this futuristic program and its participants. Her witty, smart writing style — and ability to subvert expectations and pack a graceful punch, all of which go hand-in-hand with Heydon’s directing — would no doubt only be further complemented by a larger canvas to work upon.
Pragma will screen at Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, June 10 and Wednesday, June 15.