The Struggle is Real takes the everyday perils and pitfalls of modern life and juxtaposes them with silent-era comedy. You might not think it at first, but the two actually pair together quite well, as social awkwardness is best portrayed with a broad, visual comedic style.
Done in a black-and-white, 1920s style, we follow creator and star Emily Cunningham as she finds herself in awkward situations, which she only succeeds in making progressively worse over the course of each episode. Episode 1 shows her trying to stay awake during a meeting, or at least trying not to fall asleep on the people on either side of her—as she continually misses the precious coffee pot that’s being passed around. As her efforts grow broader and more embarrassing, her neighbors (Jenna Doolittle and Charlie Pecoraro) remain very professional and absolutely deadpan. Their facial expressions as Cunningham descends further into chaos are absolutely priceless.
The second episode features Cunningham looking for love in all the wrong places. Her dream guy (Clayton McInerney) appears for a brief moment, before vanishing forever—while Cunningham is stuck fighting off a creepy homeless man with a weird stuffed animal fetish (Tucker Matthews).
In episode three, we see Cunningham sitting in an outdoor bistro, trying to be cool and classy like the glamorous woman at the next table (Monica Azcarate)—a woman who has important phone conversations during lunch, and would never, ever spill bread on her shirt. Meanwhile, Cunningham may also just have found the perfect job, and a second chance at the perfect guy—if only fate and general awkwardness can keep from ruining things. The visual and physical comedy are spot on as always, but this episode also uses another staple of silent films: title cards to depict dialogue, which add an extra level of humor.
Since the series is silent, physicality and facial expressions are key, and all of the actors do both quite well. Probably the funniest are Charlie Pecoraro as the dignified business professional and Tucker Matthews as the lecherous homeless man. Both can emote like crazy and bring more laughs with a single facial expression than a lot of actors can do with actual dialogue. The glue that holds it all together, though, is Emily Cunningham. Sometimes, she’s the ill-fated victim in the midst of the chaos, and, sometimes, she IS the chaos, but she’s always very funny and fun to watch.
Each episode can stand on its own, but together they form a single story arc, with recurring themes, characters, and more. The knowledge of what’s gone before makes us root for Cunningham’s character all the more, and empathize with all the quandaries that befall her. We’re not laughing at her, we’re laughing with her—and, just a bit, laughing at ourselves.
That relatability is one of the things that make this series work. Despite, or perhaps because of, the broad, over-the-top situations that our hapless heroine finds herself in, the whole series manages to feel very real. We’ve all found ourselves in these situations on occasion (Well, okay, maybe not everyone has had to fight a homeless man for a stuffed bear, but other than that.), and many of us have had moments when, despite our best efforts, things just continue to go wrong, and everything we do seems to make them worse. In other words . . . the struggle is real.
The Struggle is Real is produced by Emily Cunningham and Adam Neubauer. Episodes 1-3 are now available on YouTube.