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JENNA LAURENZO, "The River"

In 2015, with an eye towards creating a “proof of concept” to ultimately sell a larger feature film concept, actress, writer and indie filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo created the charming short “Girl Night Stand,” which chronicles her character’s first same sex experience and the slightly awkward aftermath. It quickly became a YouTube sensation, gaining 13.8 million views over the years and giving her the clout to make her first full length feature Lez Bomb in 2018. With a cast featuring noted character actors Kevin Pollak, Bruce Dern and the late Cloris Leachman, the film, distributed by Gravitas Ventures, has an 89% Rotten Tomatoes score and won the Jury Award for Narrative Feature at the Bentonville Film Festival.

The success of the feature aside, there’s no doubt that Laurenzo was pondering the best approach to writing and filming a sequel to the short that launched her – and these crazy times of pandemic and quarantine make the perfect backdrop to the even more compelling “Girl Night Stand: Chapter Two.” Craving connection during COVID, her character Katie reaches out (after many years in between) to her now ex-girlfriend Sarah (Meryl Jones Williams). After some awkward “should I wear/keep the mask on or off moments,” the two decide it’s worth breaking social distancing protocol and rekindle their long-lost flame.


In normal times, it might be a short about two same sex former lovers now much more comfortable in each other’s presences than the first time. Hitting us now in the midst of the pandemic, it becomes a true testament to the power of love and attraction to overcome the profound loneliness we feel. By inviting us into their world where love transcends fear, Katie and Sarah allow us to examine just how we might balance such emotions in our own lives.


Every great film story needs a theme song and it’s inspiring to hear Laurenzo expand her multi-hyphenate to include “singer-songwriter” with her infectious, buoyant debut single “The River,” produced by Gabriel Stanley. Though we’re just given snippets of the richly atmospheric, powerfully retro-synthesized track at the beginning and over the brief end credits, the verse and final chorus we hear are enough to prompt us to head to our favorite streaming service to groove along to the rest of it.


Sometimes songs in film functions as cool aural wallpaper, but the two elements Laurenzo includes in the short speak pointedly to the whimsical romantic mindset of her character. As Katie sits in front of her laptop on her patio, we hear hypnotic intro synth notes and her sultry voice sing: “I saw her standing by the river alone/An angel beyond my reach/The river brought me to my knees and I knew/She was my destiny.” At the end, when Sarah invites her to stay and pulls her in the door, we hear the percussive, pulsating final chorus where she takes a spiritual look at what this re-connection with Sarah means. She sings: “I tried, I tried, to find the rhythm of life/You couldn’t hear my dancing feet/I prayed, I prayed, for Heaven’s gentle hands/To lead you to my own drum beat.”


The delight of listening to the song in its entirety is the way it evolves from a stark opening verse featuring Laurenzo’s intimate vocals into something of a hypnotic and mystical synth-rocker. The opening lines reveal “The River” as a metaphor, a place where she “washed my sins away, cleansed my fearful soul of its reckless ways.” When she sings in the next verse that “The cold water broke me/born again today. . .I need this reckless play,” it’s a powerful moment of baptism where she’s clearly equating her desire to reconnect with Sarah to a bolder new attitude about life and what she desires.

In line with the spiritual imagery, the first chorus (“I tried, I tried to find the rhythm of life/I prayed, I prayed for Heaven’s gentle hands”) bursts forth with a richly textured, rousing vocal gospel energy filtered through a playful 80’s pop shimmer. The first verse of the second chorus finds her reflecting further as “My seeker went out searching/For things that can’t be taught/My heart craved for passion/Love that conquers thought.” It’s everything that her character wants to express as she reunites with her true love but can’t due to the social conventions of dialogue.


While “Girl Night Stand” and “The River” can certainly be appreciated as separate entities bound to uplift the spirit during these uncertain times, they’re best experienced as the complementary emotional expressions they are. So here’s a suggestion: Watch the short all the way through, then turn it on with the sound off and roll “The River” over the first few minutes so you can get insight into what she’s thinking but not actually saying as those moment of awkward social distancing give way to renewed passion.


Listen to "The River" here: https://open.spotify.com/album/3N3YJx2vFA8yoJ06c132p0?highlight=spotify:track:6QJKKMEsOBXCkM9RT1XeFH