Romantic dramedies that look at modern relationships are a dime a dozen at film festivals. Each year, the Tribeca Film Festival features a handful. This year, “In a Relationship” is one that manages to work despite adding very little new to the conversation. This is a movie that takes a well-worn path in telling its story. The enjoyment is in seeing the path taken with cleverness and skill. Humor, passion, and intelligence help fuel this one and get it to the finish line. If you don’t see at least some of your romantic history in this flick, you simply aren’t paying attention.
Mixing sexiness with sweetness, while also avoiding the dating app culture, this is almost a timeless film. Much like “Between Us” at Tribeca two years ago looked at how a change in a relationship can impact both parties, so too does “In a Relationship.” The plot points and pacing may seem rather familiar, but the characters themselves are original. That separates this one from the pack.
The premise surrounds two couples, one long-term and one brand new. Owen (Michael Angarano) and Hallie (Emma Roberts) have been together for years, both in New York and now in Los Angeles. Owen’s best friend Matt (Patrick Gibson) and Hallie’s cousin Willa (Dree Hemingway) have just met (or re-met) and are taking the tentative steps towards dating. While the latter are finding feelings, the former is losing them. Long in a rut, Owen chafes at Hallie’s suggestion they move in together, instead opting for a break. While he actually takes newfound single life hard, she takes to it much easier, perhaps moving on from him in the process. The four remain in constant contact, debating their situations, making each other laugh, and retaining complicated feelings. Maybe, just maybe, there’s love there as well. Again, it’s not an original plot, but it’s handled in the right way.
The main acting quartet sells “In a Relationship” and make the movie sing. Literally. They handle the dialogue so naturally, it almost sounds improvised. Emma Roberts leads the way with the type of charming turn that makes you never doubt why she’d be so desired in the film. Roberts is at turns hilarious, manic, and romantic. This is one of her best performances to date. The same can be said for Michael Angarano, who leans into both Owen’s best and worst qualities. He has a good heart, though he can’t always see the forest for the trees. Dree Hemingway and Patrick Gibson are given less to do, but their subplot, as well as their interactions with our protagonist, lead to some of the bigger laughs. Supporting players include Jay Ellis, Greta Lee, Melora Walters, and more.
Filmmaker Sam Boyd is expanding his short of the same name here and it’s an effective feature debut. His script is littered with clever lines, as well as just observations that ring true. Director wise, he’s somewhat one note, and that keeps this from rising up above the level of “good”. Independent looking through and through, there’s never a visual style to grab on to. Luckily, the writing is good enough to more than makeup for that. Boyd has an ear for dialogue. It’ll be fascinating to see what he does next.
If romantic dramedies are your thing, “In a Relationship” is another effective indie example of the genre. Angarano and Roberts are excellent, while Boyd’s vision is one that overcomes the presumed limits of the genre. Tribeca specializes in these sorts of flicks, so luckily this is one of the good ones. Funny, sweet, and touching in equal measure, this is a film worth taking out on a date.