Lost Transmissions is a film about mental health and music, which is fitting considering music is commonly used as a therapeutic release. Produced by Pulse Films and Royal Road Entertainment, whom regularly produce music-driven projects, this film joins a long list of films similar to it, although this has some key differences, which are luckily its strong points. Inspired by a true story, writer/director Katharine O’Brien has made her debut feature film involve a subject that genuinely matters in 2019. Rooted in how mental health is problematically disregarded in America, Lost Transmissions takes the form of a bright spotlight that is necessary to expose harsh realities, and hopefully promote change. Unfortunately, there are times when these examples come off as misguided or played for laughs, which is upsetting whether intentional or not.
Simon Pegg portrays music producer Theo, a schizophrenic who refuses to take his medication. And while his performance is absolutely brilliant and shows off his dramatic acting chops, some of his meltdowns garnered laughter from the audience. It’s mainly due to how others in the scene react to his outbursts, and while it can be commentary, it still comes across as comedic when it really shouldn’t. Yet when the film remains dramatic, it packs quite the punch. For Lost Transmissions highlights many different methods of coping with mental health, some more beneficial than others. It shows that there is more than one way to handle these situations, and for a subject so complex, it’s refreshing to view a film that doesn’t take the idealistic approach and everything works out as planned immediately.
It should be noted however, that some of these methods definitely don’t seem properly thought out, and that could be harmful. So in specific moments that feel on the nose or questionable, it’s important to take into account that the best course of action differs per person. Still, it seems a fair amount of research and first-hand experience went into this film, so it’s not as if Lost Transmissions is showing unjustified methods, some may just be more unwarranted than others. It’s also interesting to note how many examples of triggers are shown throughout the film, further exemplifying a deep understanding of mental health. Taking place in the LA music scene, there are dark paths everywhere, and the film sees Theo and Hannah go down quite a few. However, Lost Transmissions definitely leaves much to be desired in terms of further exploration of these channels.
This film is primarily about the mental healthcare system, but O’Brien also makes a point to provide commentary on the music industry as a whole. Juno Temple plays Hannah, a songwriter that ends up writing lyrics for an over the top caricature of a pop star portrayed by Alexandra Daddario. She only stars in three scenes, but quite frankly, a Popstar-esque film starring her satirizing the world of pop would be a riot, as she is very comedic and not very far off from reality. Yet by the end of the film, Hannah states a direct criticism of the industry that doesn’t really come from anywhere. All of the industry sub-plot seems to be zoomed past relatively quickly, and begins and ends before the audience know it. Both plots could be juggled easily and work off of each other, but the imbalance leaves a poor taste with the viewer.
And that feels like the main problem with Lost Transmissions. There is a certain wonder that comes from discovering new music and new bonds, and Lost Transmissions doesn’t seem to revel in that aspect. Instead, it gets right into the bulk of the main conflict, and while it garners attention because it’s a genuine problem in America, it doesn’t command attention from holding its own as a film. The only exception to this is whenever a long take is present, as it tends to always bring forth the most emotion time and time again. They normally consist of just long conversations where the two leads are left to their own display of acting, and they are all fantastic. It’s within scenes like these where Lost Transmissions defines itself, but then becomes muddled on the way to the next example.
Overall, this film is very similar to the relevance of its title. Theo believes under the static of radio waves lies hidden messages and music to be heard. And within this film, there is a very concise and extremely emotional message to be taught. And while its basic points come across, it gets too bogged down in its own makings to properly reach deeper elements of what O’Brien is attempting to convey. The stress on those who are surrounded by mental health is examined, but only in short bursts. Choices are made regarding medication that never gets revisited. And by the time the film ends, one wonders whether the best decision possible was made, or if it just so happened to occur because of the plot necessity. Lost Transmissions is important, but some fine tuning is essential for it to elevate to a level that feels crucial.
Lost Transmissions celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is part of the Spotlight Narrative section.