Runtime: 22 minutes
Director/Writer: Elle Jae Stewart
Actors: Elle Jae Stewart, Marcus Henderson, Chloe Paige Flowers
By Valerie Kalfrin
Billed as the proof-of-concept pilot for a series, the short “Public Relations” packs a lot of soapy drama into 22-minutes but leaves little room for developing its characters or caring what happens next.
Creator Elle Jae Stewart (The American Theatre of BEing Documentary) stars as Chelsea, a high-powered publicist and fixer similar to Olivia Pope from the 2010s hit TV series “Scandal.” When one of her clients, a gospel singer, gets caught peeing on a statue of the Virgin Mary, news reports wonder just how the singer’s PR team will salvage her reputation.
Chelsea is only half attentive, though. She yearns to have a baby, and her IVF treatments aren’t working.
Meanwhile, at a hospital, Andrew (Marcus Henderson, Get Out) and Corin (Chloe Paige Flowers, Dying to Marry Him) receive an upsetting diagnosis about their weeks-old son.
Co-directed by Stewart and Thomas H. Stewart, “Public Relations” introduces several characters whose connections at first are difficult to determine, partly because of the brief running time. Revelations also drop at a rapid pace, sapping the dramatic tension.
Andrew turns out to be Chelsea’s husband, who has been taking money from their joint account to keep his business and his clandestine family with Corin afloat. Chelsea reacts by drugging him, rehashing their history, and giving viewers little time to breathe.
While any series lays a lot of groundwork in a pilot, the swift pacing of “Public Relations” winds up hurting the story. The press materials pitched this as an exploration of “the psyche of a woman who seems to have everything to lose yet cannot control her violent rage when wronged.” Yet the short gives no inclination of the danger beneath Chelsea’s polished surface.
The problem isn’t that Chelsea becomes violent but that she goes from 0 to 100 mph in a snap. The short takes pains to show her kindness, faithfully buying a homeless man food, for instance. Ella Jae Stewart seems to relish playing Chelsea’s bad side, but escalating tension would have made the cliffhanger ending more engrossing instead of leaving viewers feeling stunned and confused.