Save Me is the story of a kid (Jaheem Toombs) whose house burned down and the rest of his family died and he goes to ask the man who saved him (Sam Bologna) why he saved him and the man doesn’t tell him so the kid lies about it to his new best friend. There are some ostensible layers to it—Toombs’s Black, Bologna’s an old White man—they’re artificial. Waithe’s giving the impression of raising questions, ones she can’t bother even imagining the answers for.
The photography—by Matthew H. Sanders—is about the only solid part of the short. Waithe’s direction is hyper-focused on the actors, who—at best—aren’t very good and are often worse. Save Me occasionally feels like Waithe’s out to embarrass Toombs, who’s been living in foster care since his family burned to death and he’s got a kindly social worker (Stacy Lutz). They have this game where he gives her a quote and she tells him who said it. The gimmick becomes important later on.
Shame Toombs doesn’t seem to have any idea why he’s saying the quote or who and why he’s quoting the person, other than Waithe thinks it’ll be a good detail.
When people use “workshop” as a pejorative, they’re talking about the script to Save Me. Cultural references are more important than the flow of the dialogue, which is fine because the musical accompaniment is more important than the scenes. Despite being in every scene, Toombs’s the film’s least defined character. Waithe’s doing a character study where she’s avoiding character as much as possible. So what should be a great showcase for Toombs is instead a series of opportunities for him to fail.
Then there’s the cloying finale, which has Toombs forgetting how to skateboard; though I suppose that plot hole is a great metaphor for the short itself.
Written and directed by Lena Waithe; director of photography, Matthew H. Sanders; edited by Justin Simien; music by Darnell Levine; produced by Nikki Love.
Starring Jaheem Toombs (Kenya), Stacy Lutz (social worker), Malcolm Williams (shop owner), and Sam Bologna (Mr. Wilkey).