Brittany Snow dazzles in her directorial debut — crafting a personal but relatable tale of the path to redemption in the wake of destruction.
The directorial debut from the immensely talented actress Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect, X) is a love story. But it’s far from traditional. Instead, it poignantly explores the difficulty in loving another when you cannot love yourself and the battle to connect with someone while desperately trying to disconnect from yourself.
Parachute is a profoundly personal, aching look at the agonizing push-pull between a damaged woman’s desire to numb the pain and her yearning to feel.
Yellowjackets star Courtney Eaton plays twenty-something Riley. We first meet her sitting outside a rehab facility, waiting for her absentee mom to pick her up. When she realizes her mom isn’t coming, she calls her best friend Casey (Francesca Reale) to pick her up.
Casey encourages Riley to attend a gathering with her, hoping it will cheer Riley up and get her mind off her problems. Reluctantly agreeing, Riley meets the kindhearted Ethan (Thomas Mann), and the two instantly hit it off. They quickly abandon the karaoke party and spend a night out together before ending up at Riley’s place.
Despite the palpable attraction and chemistry, romance is off the table.
Both Riley and Ethan are nursing broken hearts after failed relationships. More importantly, Riley has committed to a one-year romantic moratorium as a condition of her recovery. There are times early on when lust overrides logic, and the two try to hook up. But each time, Riley realizes she’s not ready.
To his credit, Ethan is patient, emotionally generous, and more than happy to be there for her however she needs, putting apparent feelings for her aside.
As their friendship blossoms, we discover what Riley struggles to recover from.
She has extreme body issues, an unhealthy relationship with food, and a compulsive desire to compare herself physically to other women. Snow cleverly illustrates this through some smart editing that shows Riley’s warped perspective as she sizes every woman up and reduces each one to a series of body parts.
Riley is also harboring a toxic addiction to Instagram, which only adds fuel to her insecurities and reminds her of all the ways she’s not good enough, pretty enough, or thin enough to be truly loved and accepted.
She feels miserable every time she opens the app, but she can’t put it down. She’s compelled to view the page of every beauty blogger, influencer, and Instagram model, including her ex’s new girlfriend.
It’s an obsession many can relate to — that devastating drive to seek out things that harm us and reinforce our own insecurities.
But Riley doesn’t look like a girl who could, would, or should feel inadequate.
From the outside looking in, she has it all.
She’s beautiful, and the extra pounds she obsesses over seem nowhere to be found. She’s also a child of privilege, living rent-free in a spacious apartment paid for by her mother, with plenty of spending money despite not having a job.
Riley doesn’t fit the mold of someone plagued with self-esteem issues, but that’s precisely the point.
When someone suffers from mental illness, their brain lies to them. It causes them to become consumed by a false narrative. And because that narrative is so different from what the world sees, empathy and understanding are in short supply.
“You have so much,” they think, “how dare you not appreciate it.” Self-loathing feels like self-pity, and it’s viewed as selfish, narcissistic, and spoiled.
This creates a vicious and painful cycle. Because when you’re struggling to love yourself, feeling unloved or misunderstood by others only exasperates that inner turmoil. Not only must you face your inner demons, but you must reconcile how your behavior affects those you love and care about.
Eaton is extraordinary as Riley, effortlessly conveying her suffering with exquisite and heartbreaking believability.
Snow uses her extensive experience as a performer to bring out the best in her stellar cast, and she’s able to pull impressive depth and layered complexity from Eaton, who is both sympathetic and infuriating.
It’s remarkable how well Snow makes you feel for Riley while also sharing the frustrations of those around her. It’s so easy to see how someone like Ethan could be so drawn to her yet acutely aware of how flawed she truly is.
As Riley desperately tries to carve out a path to healing, she develops a co-dependent addiction to Ethan.
Every waking minute is spent with him despite repeated protests that they are not in a relationship.
For his part, Ethan faces his own personal trauma — as a result of an alcoholic father, played to perfection by Joel McHale — which forces him into a caregiver role and makes it difficult to set appropriate boundaries.
As Riley explains to her compassionate therapist (Gina Rodriguez), the only time she feels healthy is when she’s starving herself, binge eating, or spending time with Ethan. It becomes clear then that her relationship with Ethan is as problematic as her relationship with food; it’s a struggle to fill a void that nothing or no one can fill.
This desire to find a magic pill to erase all her pain inevitably sets Riley up for a hard crash and bitter disappointment.
The boiling point in the couple’s tumultuous paring comes when Riley’s one-year relationship sabbatical is up. Rather than partnering with the man who has been by her side through thick and thin, fear of abandonment and self-hatred forces her into the arms of the shallow, woman-chasing bartender at her new job, shattering a lovestruck Ethan.
Eventually, Riley’s mental health issues threaten to destroy all her relationships, pushing her to the edge and forcing her to face her demons head-on — which is precisely what she needs if she hopes to heal truly.
During the film’s World Premiere at SXSW, Snow, who co-wrote the film with Becca Gleason, shared just how personal of a story this was.
In many ways, Snow explained, she is Riley.
That connection with the material shines through and makes it easy to invest with these lived-in characters, empathize with their struggles, and care about where this journey takes them.
Having just watched the 95th Academy Awards, I’m reminded of Bong Joon Ho’s 2020 Best Director acceptance speech, in which he quoted Martin Scorsese:
“The most personal is the most creative.”
Having a personal stake in the art a filmmaker create translates to work that feels authentic, relatable, and meaningful.
Parachute’s ending is about as perfect as you could hope for, subverting expectations about romantic stories while reaffirming the power of love and redefining the meaning of ‘soulmate’.
It sounds saccharine, but it’s beautifully orchestrated and deeply resonant. Snow deftly keeps this tale of addiction and eating disorders from feeling like a health class or an after-school special. It’s affecting without being maudlin, hopeful without being ingratiating.
The performances are universally outstanding, and Eaton and Mann share a touching chemistry that radiates off the screen.
Eaton, especially, is asked to go to some very dark and emotionally vulnerable places, and she delivers in spades.
I deeply resonated with the way Snow explores how damaged people chase happiness while wrestling with the voices in their heads that tell them happiness is neither attainable nor deserved. And sometimes you do get everything you think you want. But what we want isn’t always what we need.
That perhaps is the most important motif in Parachute.
We all crave that feeling of security when it feels like we’ve been pushed out of an airplane, freefalling into nothing. We’re desperate for a soft place to land.
But sometimes, we need to crash and burn. And sometimes, we have to find the strength to save ourselves.
Kudos to Ms. Snow for baring so much of her soul onscreen and crafting a story so accessible and empathetic from material so personal.