BETWEEN US (2012)
Starring Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, David Harbour, Melissa George, Mara New, Julia Cho, Claudio Dabed, Michael Doneger, Eric Salazar, Robert S. Martin III, Sara Faiella, Michael David Lynch, Jessica Mayorga, Mike Blum, Kevin DiNovis, John Bolen, Christopher M. Dukes, Annika Pampel, Aaron Webster, Malin Yhr and Brooke Martin.
Screenplay by Joe Hortua and Dan Mirvish.
Directed by Dan Mirvish.
Distributed by Monterey Media. 90 minutes. Rated R.
The only thing worse than being stuck at a dinner party with a couple who are viciously fighting in front of you is being stuck with two quarrelling couples.
Which brings us to Between Us.
Based on a play by Joe Hortua, Between Us seems to be trying to be a modern Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or perhaps an indie God of Carnage. Sadly it is not as good as either, but it does have some fascinating parts.
Honestly, much of the running time seems to be a filmed version of the play. There are a few other characters that stray into the story, but for the most part it is just the film’s four stars interacting. With the exception of one drunken car ride and some very brief flashbacks, the film pretty much takes place in two settings – a huge-but-sterile Connecticut suburban house and a funky-but-decrepit New York City apartment.
Because of that, the intimate, chilly-but-white-hot drama of the screenplay would play out much better for an audience on the stage. On film it is alternately smart and bracingly literate and horribly awkward and periodically unpleasant. It’s a little too in your face, not allowing the viewer the distance and perspective that the stage offers.
Between Us takes a look at two different nights shared between two couples, apparently about a year or so between each other, though the two nights are cut together and interspersed throughout. The four are old college friends, the newlywed Carlo (Taye Diggs) and Grace (Julia Styles) and their longer-married friends Joel (David Harbour) and Sharyl (Melissa George).
The first night, Carlo and Grace are blissfully happy in their new marriage and are forced to watch Joel and Sharyl snipe and gripe over their passionless relationship. The reunion a year or so later finds Joel and Sharyl finally finding marital happiness through therapy while money problems and an unexpected son have Carlo and Grace hostile and dismissive towards each other.
This set-up seems a tiny bit too tidy – can’t both of the couples be happy or miserable at the same time? – but it does bring dramatic power to the alternating scenes. And then there is the economic undertow. Carlo and Joel are both photographic artists but Joel has “sold out” in Carlo’s eyes, then again Joel can afford a gorgeous home while Carlo is on the verge of being evicted from his tiny apartment.
The dialogue is often cutting and very telling. Sadly, Between Us comes out right on the heels of Before Midnight, a much smarter, funnier and more probing look at friendship and marital discontent. That movie’s similar theme is at the service of more likable characters, more realistic problems and a more intricately structured plot.
Still, it is no crime to not be as good as Before Midnight, which already is widely being called one of the best films of the year. Between Us is a very well written film, featuring four blisteringly intimate performances by the stars. It just eventually gets overbearingly bleak. Even the occasional situational comic relief is no real relief from the oppressive negativity of the characters.
Truth is, after spending two nights (or even 90 minutes) with these two couples, most people will be ready to take a long break from all four of them.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 21, 2013.