Between Us (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Between Us (2017)

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Dianne and Henry resist the life other people want for them.  They're living together, unconcerned with marriage, and trying to get by in life.  Their relationship is put to the test as each begins to imagine life without the other, and the thoughts unsaid create fresh tension they might not be mature enough to deal with.  Rafael Palacio Illingworth wrote the screenplay for and directs Between Us, and stars Olivia Thirlby and Ben Feldman.

An upfront admission - I zoned out of Between Us somewhere around the 40-minute mark and had to rewind.  The glacially paced relationship struggles of Dianne (Olivia Thirlby) and Henry (Ben Feldman) were effectively visualized in the first few seconds of Between Us by a stagnant cloud hanging over the couple's living room.  That cloud turned out to be more than an effective metaphor for the couple's stagnation as Between Us plodded from one shot of monotony to the next as overlapping dialogue shares banal observations that theoretically could have saved the relationship.

Rewinding my rental to the last point of Between Us I remembered gave me time to ponder all those criticisms.  I can't recall the last time I've seen a relationship as inert and boring as the one between Dianne and Henry.  Neither one of them have lives, just dramatic conveniences that set up easy conflict points when each meets the living embodiment of what they want from the other.  Henry's inner monologue remembers when he met Dianne and they had oodles of sex, so his temptation comes from Veronica (Analeigh Tipton) who throws orgies and makes electronica in her spare time.  Dianne admires Henry's artistic ambition though laments his ability to do anything with it, so she meets the playwright Liam (Adam Goldberg) who has some of the same ideas as Henry but puts them into practice.

Mopey folks in dark lighting having conversations on the soundtrack instead of on the screen. Not thrilling stuff.

This isn't "slice of life" stuff, it's creating two boring characters and putting their already dull relationship to the test by writer/director Rafael Palacio Illingworth with obstacles so perfectly tuned to the relationship that the conflict never feels authentic.  Dianne and Henry aren't characters, they're thinly sketched ideas of success and ambition, and Illingworth's writing brings nothing of note from either of them.  This is reflected in his technique of showing the two in a state of inertia - Dianne watching a show in one room while Henry fiddles away in another - and the soundtrack fills with dialogue of what conversations they could be having.

And god do those conversations drone on for what feels like forever.  I'm scouring my notes for anything that hinted at depth from either Henry or Dianne and I'm coming up with nothing.  The most pointed observation about the stagnation of Henry and Dianne's relationship comes from Veronica, who rightly pegs Henry as the kind of guy who thinks he wants to be adventurous with other women but, "If you cheat on your wife you'll tell her you're very very sorry."  Keep in mind, that's the most pointed, with the rest of the rambling feeling like a sleep-deprived postgrad imagining what it's like to be in a relationship instead of drawing on relationship experience from any human within reach.

Based on Between Us, Illingworth does not have the talent for dialogue or sense of pacing to create a montage that illustrates the alienation Henry and Dianne feel.  What he does have, and this is what keeps Between Us from being a failure, is a good sense of images to jar the two out of their mundane space.  There's a sudden cut from the separate shots of Henry and Dianne having their non-existent conversation to an intense closeup of the two passionately having sex.  It's not lit for eroticism but for emphasis on their physical interaction, making each slobbery kiss an uncomfortable reminder of the raw physical exertion of healthy relationships.  I also liked the way Illingworth presents technology as foreplay, cutting to a black screen save the texts Henry and Veronica send one another, with both the mundane moving image and blackened texts mixing with quick shots of them sending each other lewd photos.

I'm usually happy to see Adam Goldberg, and his odd hologram show provided a nice distraction from the boring everything else.

The other major up for Between Us is Thirlby's performance as Dianne.  It's hard to find many movies she's had a role in I've enjoyed, not even Dredd (sorry folks), but she's been a reliable performer saddled with thankless characters.  Here she makes me wonder what she's capable of under a director like Kathryn Bigelow or Olivier Assayas, both directors who create room for the quiet darker impulses of their characters.  Thirlby's fine-tuned reactions are sometimes painful, like the double-take of her sadness going through distinct stages when she's disappointed in hearing something then growing sadder at learning she heard correct.  Dianne's motivations aren't as clear as Henry's, and Thirlby's quiet moments of sadness take a sharp edge when contrasted to her carefully constructed flirtations with her boss and, later, Liam.

Between Us drifts too much on thin characters with some odd digressions on what role tech and creativity have on the fate of Henry and Dianne's relationship.  What mental real estate I was able to rent out for Between Us isn't likely to last long if my mid-film mental vacation is any indication.

Though I'll always have that cloud.

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Between Us (2017)

Screenplay written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth.
Starring Olivia Thirlby and Ben Feldman.


Posted by Andrew

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