Terence Nance is a romantic: That much is clear from the title of his feature debut, “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.” Every word and every frame contained within this charming cinematic ode furthers that impression, ultimately saying less about the real-world object of Nance’s affection, Namik Minter, than it does about its quixotic author, still naive enough to think making a film about his feelings can sway hers. While Minter remains resolutely unavailable, hip auds are likely to fall for this endearing love poem, which should travel well in arty alternative-programming circles after debuting in Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section.
Rather than trying to woo Hollywood with his first feature, Nance clearly has a more old-fashioned courtship in mind, marshalling every trick he can manage — from vaguely French New Wave-style depictions of frustrated young love to various forms of animation — to make the case for why he and Minter should be together. Instead, as he puts it, “I got friend-zoned.”
As it turns out, this is not the first time Nance has tried to impress her via filmmaking, and this feature (which ran closer to three hours before the Sundance Institute gave Nance the guidance and funds to distill it down to 94 minutes) expands on an earlier short film, entitled “How Would You Feel?,” which dramatized a moment of personal disappointment with respect to Minter. Nance frames the incident in such a way that audiences can easily identify — namely, by addressing them directly via informal second-person narration while describing in layers of increasing detail an exhausting day that ends with the smitten main character (“you”) being stood up by the girl he’d expected to see that evening.
It’s a sweet short, a tad repetitive at times, which Nance dynamically deconstructs, splitting it into multiple parts and supplying some fresh perspective for context. These elements include background on Minter (who had a b.f. when he met her), a catalog of all Nance’s previous affairs (described as an “exegesis of those with which you are in love”), and a reading into the record of several love letters.
Because Minter is also an artist and aspiring filmmaker, Nance pushes her to respond in kind, first through a series of awkward oncamera interviews and later by sampling from her unfinished short film, “Subtext.” Though Nance no doubt intends for auds to fall under Minter’s spell, her allure remains enigmatic, oversimplified by the fact that his good-natured self-deprecation makes him the focus of attention.
Self-indulgent as it may sound, the project fits well within a tradition of artistic obsession far more common in painting, literature and music than mainstream filmmaking. Despite the playful ingenuity of his presentation, which includes neat tricks such as “pausing” to switch approaches at various intervals, one senses that Nance doesn’t fully trust the cinematic medium. The raw emotionality comes through at every turn, despite the helmer’s insistence on structuring the film like some sort of college essay and carpeting it with flowery wall-to-wall narration. At times, you wish he’d put a sock in it and let the cleverly imagined scenes speak for themselves.
Still, as the work of one young man bursting with inspiration, the film is a giddy thing to absorb, allowing complete strangers to witness someone performing open-heart surgery on himself. The animated sequences are especially impressive, storyboarded by Nance and handed over to others for a range of different visual styles.