The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Between Us

There's a thing I refer to as Cinema of the Uncomfortable. Films in this subgenre are devoted to examining how characters react in awkward, painful situations. Imagine Curb Your Enthusiasm played with dead seriousness rather than for comedy. For a fine example, one need look no further than director Dan Mirvish's Between Us, now on DVD and available to rent via digital platforms.

The film is the story of two couples - Grace (Julia Styles) and Carlo (Taye Diggs), and Sharyl (Melissa George) and George (David Harbour) – who are longtime friends. In the opening scene, the latter couple shows up unexpectedly at the former's door to issue an apology. There is some vague talk about an incident years prior that drove them all apart. We then flash back to that night. Grace and Carlo come to visit Sharyl and George, only to see that their pals' marriage isn't in the best of shape. Between Us cuts back and forth, showing us what transpired that evening, then contrasting it to current day, when the couples' fortunes are reversed.

What's interesting about Between Us is how it explores the utter discomfort these people feel as they watch - and are dragged into - each other's marital crises. Secrets are revealed, long-held grudges are brought to the surface, tensions escalate. There are problems with alcohol, finances, religious beliefs, and occupations. No matter how uncomfortable, the film never blinks, keeping these two couples in a room together to deal with the repercussions of their own decisions. We are often surprised by what happens. We think we know the characters, but then some new bit of information comes out that makes us see them in a different, more complex light. The actors are solid across the board, with David Harbour, in particular, doing effective work as the character with perhaps the deepest issues. Everyone develops an off-kilter chemistry with everyone else, thereby allowing the story's revelations to have the necessary dramatic weight.

Between Us does hit a few snags. It's based on a play by Joe Hortua, and it often feels stagey. Adapting such an interior work to film is difficult, because movies need to feel like movies, if you know what I mean. Between Us never quite finds a way to fully “open up” its world into something more cinematic. The other issue is that there's not much levity. This is, as I said, all about embracing uncomfortableness. That willingness to explore the darkest recesses of human interaction is admirable, but an extra “light” moment here or there to break the tension would help the dark stuff go down a bit easier.

If you can deal with seeing deeply troubled people in painfully awkward situations – and I can - Between Us will be of interest. And there's a reason why: the movie is not an exercise in emotional sadism, but rather an attempt to gain insight into the complex, complicated, and often contradictory ways each and every one of us behave. Human nature – it's a beast sometimes.

Between Us is rated R for language including some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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