Change for a Dollar (2010) – By Cary Conley

When I first saw the title for this film in my email inbox, my first thought was that the film must be a comedy.  I don’t really know why except that the title gave me the impression of a comedy.  Boy, was I ever wrong!

Change for a Dollar is a 10-minute short about how only one dollar can change peoples’ lives.  I think the theme is quite appropriate for this day and age, for no matter what the government says, I see evidence that we are still in a recession everywhere I go.

The film is silent save for a simple but beautiful piano score and a single line of dialogue towards the end of the film.  But we need no words to understand what is going on here.  The film opens with a man sitting outside a grocery store holding an empty can and a sign that reads "Change?"  Someone walks by and puts $1.20 in his cup.  Cut to the man purchasing a 35-cent cup of coffee and a 15-cent book of matches in the grocery store.  As he walks out, he sees a mother and her young son at a second register.  The mother is counting pennies to pay for a loaf of bread.  The little boy and the man share a glance between each other as the man walks out.

As the man turns the corner, he hands the cup of coffee to a lonely-looking homeless woman taking a break from collecting cans.  No words are exchanged, but the coffee and a warm touch brightens the woman’s morning.  Next, the man takes a penny–part of the change from his earlier purchase–and purposefully and carefully lays it heads-up on the sidewalk, just in time for the mother and son to turn the corner, see the penny, and pick it up.  As the mother straightens up, she sees a Help Wanted sign in the window of a small diner.  She goes in and when she comes out, she hugs her son and spins him around–she got the job! 

The film continues in this manner as we see the man give away his small amount of change throughout the day, sometimes getting something in return only to later use that object to heal someone else’s emotional wounds.

The film ends with the man sitting in his usual spot with an empty can and his sign.  I don’t want to ruin the entire film for you, especially the ending, but suffice to say that there is a sweet irony in the final scene of the film.

Writer/Director Sharon Wright has created a sweet, emotional film about hope.  Her message seems to say that no matter who you are or how little you may have to give, it may be the one thing another human being needs to change his or her life.  Sometimes it’s money, but often it is an encouraging word or touch.  We never know who the man is really.  Is he truly a homeless man who sees greater need in others than in himself?  I know it seems sappy, but I kept seeing flashes of the old WWJD bracelets so popular a few years back.  Was this who the man was?  It doesn’t matter, for any of us have the power to make a positive impact in someone else’s life.

I also saw the irony in the use of the homeless man’s sign he held.  We see it briefly in the opening scene and in the closing scene.   It’s question is simple:  "Change?"  Of course, the viewer thinks of money when he or she first sees the sign, but as the movie continues, we see the ironic double meaning of the sign:  is the man asking for change, or is he asking for CHANGE?  The film is pure poetry–a very moving experience.  I even found that I had tears in my eyes by the end of the film.

Director Sharon Wright has been busy in Maine shooting her next film.  If it is anywhere near as good as this one, I can’t wait to see it.  I highly recommend Change for a Dollar.