There are a number of films that have (and will) come out of this pandemic that deal with the effects of isolation and trauma. But none quite hit home in the same way as Leon Pierce Jr.’s latest film, Welcome Matt.
Pierce Jr. wrote Welcome Matt. It tells the story of Matt (Tahj Mowry), beloved creator of the film Life’s a Beach. Matt’s work is celebrated by all. But he suffers from severe agoraphobia due to a trauma that he endured after his film was released. However, with his girlfriend is cheating on him and his landlord demanding the rent money, his life is beginning to spiral. Broken and terrified of the world outside his front door, he tries to keep himself sane by writing a new script about his experience. But Matt receives an offer to revisit the franchise that made him famous. He finds himself at an emotional crossroads and must decide whether or not it’s time to work through the fears that hold him hostage.
Though the concept is entirely isolated to the walls of Matt’s home, there’s a lot to like about Welcome Matt. Funny and engaging, the film is a fairly strong character piece that remains enjoyable primarily due to the strength of its lead. In the role of Matt, Mowry is entirely believable and balances his character with humility and humour. Mowry fills his character’s sadness and pain. He also injects an authenticity into his performance that keeps him from being neither flippant nor indulgent. In essence, he just feels… human.
In a lot of ways, Welcome Matt’s narrative structure winks at the audience along the way. As Matt writes a new film about life in his home, so too does Welcome mirror his new project. Each character interaction is conveniently located at his place. And we become increasingly aware that this is a story that is attempting to allow the emotional arc of its central character to become the focus. (In fact, it even feels as though it may be a very personal story for Pierce Jr.)
Struggling with his own personal trauma, Matt views the outside world as a threat. Though all of his friends and family move about the world freely, his fear keeps him locked inside the perceived safety of his home. Unable to process the events that scarred him, Matt is afraid to resume his old life and step out into the world. Whereas Matt once believed that ‘Life’s a Beach’, he now views the outside as a place of danger and threat.
And the timeliness could not have been better.
We are moving out of the pandemic and into the ‘next normal’ of everyday life. So Matt’s high anxiety about leaving his home feels entirely relatable. (Full disclosure: I have also had difficulty coping with trauma and struggle with issues of high anxiety myself.) As he continues to refuse to deal with his personal pain, Matt’s inability to re-engage the outside world becomes overwhelming. However, what’s interesting is that his fears about the outside world are somewhat justified. When casting his new film, his potential actor actually does threaten violence against him. Though his ex-girlfriend wants him to step out, so too does she want to use him to further her career. As such, Matt’s belief that the world is dangerous does contain grains of truth and we sympathize with his fear.
What are hard to watch though are the conversations with his friends and family who simply ask him to ‘get back out there’. While Matt absolutely needs to process his grief and angst, those who supposedly love him fail to truly listen to his perspective and pain. (Even his therapist admits to struggling to help her clients and gets wayyyy too involved in Matt’s situation.) To them, Matt needs to let go of the new things he says that he wants to try and resume his old life. After all, why can’t he write a sequel to his old movie? Or hang out with his old friends? Their ignorance about Matt’s situation translates into a lack of empathy or, at worst, stems from their own self-interest.
In this way, the film oversimplifies the healing process—especially at the film’s conclusion. Matt talking about his trauma is an essential moment within the film. But it doesn’t mean that everything in his life will be fine the moment that those words are spoken. Many of us who have struggled with mental illness. And we know that healing is often a sideways journey with many moments that fly both backwards and forwards. While Welcome takes this approach to give its lead character hope, it also comes across as a tad naïve.
In the end, Welcome Matt comes across as a mostly enjoyable piece that feels incredibly appropriate. The pandemic is (hopefully) winding down and our are doors opening up. And this is a film that wants to look at the impact of our pain and what really holds us inside. What really makes the film work though is Matt himself, whose journey out of his own personal lockdown feels like it could be our own.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Comedy, Drama
- Directed by: Leon Pierce Jr.
- Starring: Aaron Grady, Adriyan Rae, Deon Cole, Dorien Wilson, GG Townson, Jazsmin Lewis, Malik S, Tahj Mowry
- Produced by: Annick Jaëgy, Jazsmin Lewis, Jenna Cavelle, Leon Pierce Jr.
- Written by: Leon Pierce Jr.
- Studio: Her Pictures, Insane Genius Productions