In an unknown year, in an unknown city, a love blooms between two pen pals. She is a lonely woman suffering from OCD who hasn't been outside for years, and her free time is spent writing letters and sending out to random people in attempt to get contact. He is in a similar situation and is the only person who responds to her mails. One day they decide to meet up in her apartment, and once the shyness settles they realize they are perfect for each other. The two oddballs start a life together.
Combine quirky comedy, fantasy, "Metamorphosis" minus the insect (actually, yes), paintings, stageplays and a family life drama, you kinda get "The Extraordinary Tale of the Times Table". This is a story that is so basic, but so incredibly well told, that you can't help but adore it. It's something that just as well could have been performed on a stage, but when it's put on a screen it becomes so personal and so very real, even when it's the most bizarre. What exactly is it that makes this an extraordinary tale?
The story itself isn't that extraordinary when you put it on paper. It's quite... ordinary, really. It's girl meets boy, and probably one of the most basic versions of it: they meet, they fall in love, they start a family. It's when you get into the characters, their backstories, and how they work that you understand that this won't just be a love story. It's about two very lonely people, who out of sheer luck happen to start sending each other mail. She has been sending out letters to random people because she has been hiding in her apartment for several years, and she's feeling lonely. She suffers from OCD, she doesn't want to go out, nor does she want to speak, but she wants to find a friend through mail. He happens to get one of her mails, but because he is so used to not getting mail he hadn't checked his mail slot for quite a while. When he finally finds the letter, he's excited and responds directly. It turns out that these two individuals, as strange as they are, might be perfect for each other. After many exchanged letters he finally goes to visit her. But how will she know if he's the one knocking on the door? Well, she has a kindergarden-quality drawn picture of him that he sent, so that counts for something! A few awkward meetings later, they fall in love. And they fall in bed. And they get pregnant. They have started a life together. To support the family, he has to start working while she takes care of their baby. And this is where reality hits - family life and love proves to be even harder than loneliness.
Let's talk about aesthetics, style and tone for a second. The movie was actually entirely shot on a soundstage, so that definitely contributes to the stageplay feel of the movie. But it's something that really works as a benefit. The lack of windows and outside light is something that helps us get claustrophobic with our characters. The entire apartment is actually quite a piece of art, from the muddy wallpapers, tiny spaces, minimalistic placements of furnitures are constant reminders that while the story tells us something real, we're actually watching something out of the ordinary. A fantasy, almost. The filmmakers have mentioned that it was loosely based on Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and oddly enough that's one of the first things that come to mind once the apartment and characters are introduced, and not to mention the overall tone of the movie. I'd like to think they wanted to personify their inspiration by adding cockroaches to His life.
I admire every hand that had a part in making this movie. How could I not? From the screenwriting, the producing, the set designing, cinematography, and so on. It all works perfectly on bringing out every little ounce of emotion that they wanted you to feel. Obviously Aïda Ballmann and Ken Appledorn in the lead roles are the icing on the cake. A bad couple of actors would've made this purely a piece for the eyes, but these two manage to work every strength and weakness of their characters (and the weaknesses are many, and all the more challenging to show) into the movie seemingly without even trying. That's not to take away their hard work, they just appear very natural in this weird tale.
The movie plays heavily on drama, but before that's truly introduced we're treated to some downright ridiculous comedy. The good kind! The characters are so over-the-top odd, She especially, that you have no idea how you'd be able to sympathize with the characters. Early on in the movie I was actually sure that this would be a movie strictly focusing on being silly and over-the-top, and whatever dark elements there were would be washed out by just being silly and quirky. That's not at all the case. Once the movie settles and the two are starting a family, the sad moments became all the stronger. And all the more real. Even the smaller things like how they use a typewriter to communicate through letters when He is working late and She has gone to bed when he gets back, becomes less funny and more devastatingly true to many lives the more you think about it. Somehow the movie is miles away from reality, yet it feels so real. It's actually scary how real it is, how much you can relate to it and how the horrible tragedy that is to come could just as well have been a news headline. And that's the thing here, it's a great trick of genres. It's a totally fantastical movie that is quirky and funny, most definitely, but it plays on real emotions and situations, and has a third act that actually goes to some very dark places. It nevers sets up any boundaries so it has nothing that holds it back.
Have I convinced you to watch the movie yet? I hope so. You might think you have seen a similar movie, because who hasn't seen an artistic movie with quirky comedy and drama before? Right? No, "The Extraordinary Tale of the Times Table" is really an original piece of work. The inspirations, influences and style of choice might be familiar, but this is not an experience you'll stumble upon again. It won't be for everyone, though. I don't know which crowd it would please - it might not sit well with any aficionado of straight drama, comedy or horror, but those who have visited many mash-ups of them might love this. It's arthouse film at it's most funny, tragic and simplistically creative.