Between Us (**)

1

between_usThere’s a quartet of fine performances at the core of the film Between Us, a drama about a pair of dysfunctional relationships, but I wish there was a little bit more than that. In adapting Joe Hortua‘s play, director/co-writer Dan Mirvish doesn’t do enough to expand the world we’re seeing, so we have a claustrophobic chamber piece of sorts that takes too long to hammer home the point it makes pretty early on in the proceedings. Mirvish does get some strong work out of Julia Stiles, Melissa George, Taye Diggs, and David Harbour, but they’re trapped in what too often seems like inferior material. I was reminded of Carnage more than once while watching this, and not in an especially good way. There’s an underlying menace that helps the movie from time to time, but more often than not things just feel repetitive. It’s never an easy task to bring something from the stage to the screen, and despite the best efforts of Horta (who worked on the script as well) and Mirvish, they’re unsuccessful and wind up leaving Diggs, George, Harbour, and Stiles out to dry in the process.

Taking place over two evenings a few years apart, we watch the interactions of two couples as they show their best and their worst. Initially, Grace (Stiles) and Carlo (Diggs) are the fun filled and loving pair that sees nothing but blue skies ahead while Joel (Harbour) and Sharyl (George) are the disillusioned and petty folks. Grace and Carlo are decidedly middle class at best while Joel and Sharyl are upper class and rising, but Carlo and Joel are long time friends who see the best in each other. That first night together in the flick shows the dark side of one couple, but when the role of host and hostess are reversed a few years later after no time spent together, the quartet find that everyone has changed, and not necessarily for the better. It’s definitely not an especially complicated plot, though there’s the interesting decision to criss cross between both nights to constantly change how each person treats everyone else. It doesn’t save the movie, but it certainly helps to keep things bearable.

between-us01I obviously have issues with the film, but the acting isn’t one of them. Julia Stiles, Melissa George, Taye Diggs, and David Harbour are all well suited for their parts and play them quite well. Stiles gives her best performance in a while, and the same can be said for George as well. Diggs and Harbour are their reliable selves, though the latter does get to have a rare leading role, which I certainly appreciated. Stiles and Harbour get to have the biggest evolution (or de-evolution at times) for their characters, though it wouldn’t be fair to say that Diggs and George stay the same at all. That being said, the chemistry between Stiles and Diggs was more believable than the chemistry between George and Harbour, not that it hurt the flick in any way. They’re really the only folks in the movie and without them, oh boy would this have been hard to sit through.

Dan Mirvish tries to get cute at times from the director’s chair and give each meeting its own distinctive look, but sometimes it all just winds up looking like a low budget documentary. It’s not a big issue, but when the script he co-wrote with Joe Hortua isn’t especially strong (I don’t know if that’s because of the source material or in spite of it), it becomes something that’s easy to notice. Films like Blue Valentine have done similar things quite well, but that’s not the case here. Mirvish does get those performances from his cast, so credit is due to him there, but most of the time he just makes things unpleasant for the viewer. There’s also one way too repetitive argument that’s almost a parody by the time the third act is upon us, culminating in no payoff either, which is rather frustrating. Apparently this is supposed to be a darkly comic drama (I’m quoting the press material here), but I didn’t even come close to laughing once. This is almost Neil LaBute territory, but he’s at least able to work in that humor. It’s completely absent here, and even worse…that’s not the intent.

I can definitely see some people responding very strongly to Between Us, but most folks will be more like me and wish the actors and their high quality performances were contained within a better feature. I wouldn’t call this a bad movie per say, but it’s pretty damn mediocre and one of the more forgettable independent flicks of the year. Julia Stiles, Melissa George, Taye Diggs, and David Harbour do what they can, but in the end they’re unable to save the film from itself. Unless you’re starved for indie cinema, you can do better than this…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!