RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2017 (Limited)
DIRECTOR: Joey Klein
MPAA RATING: NR
RUNTIME: 104 minutes
I have no doubt that a movie like The Other Half takes considerable emotional dedication to make (of course, this could be argued about any movie). For lead actors Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen, it very well may have been draining. As a couple in real life, the struggles and pains of their characters’ troubled onscreen relationship must have felt, on one hand, more accessible and, on the other, far more intimate and difficult. Joey Klein, the film’s writer and director, builds on an already restrained tone with muted color motifs and a dour landscape.
Nickie (Cullen) is a normal, unassuming man who holds his cards close to his chest, a habit that tends to backfire when an opportunity for release presents itself. Shortly after getting fired from his low-paying job, he meets Emily (Maslany), a woman about his age. Their chemistry is immediate and obvious but not overblown in its revelation.
Klein, as a filmmaker, seems to consider over-exposition a cardinal sin. Their lives together blossom in a typical way, but rather abruptly one night, two truths are revealed. Nickie is grieving over the sudden disappearance of his younger brother, and Emily has bipolar disorder, which has severely harmed her social abilities and prior relationships. Difficulties are exposed in ways that become clear as the couple spends more time together, and the strains of their past come back and put large question marks on the prospects of their future.
Here is a romance story that conveys the strength of its central pairing through the extensive traumas with which they must deal. That pain is conveyed quite frequently but also repetitively; for two hours, it can feel punishing. The acting is strong and the intentions behind the story are clear, but the screenplay does a poor job of holding our attention or convincing us that a prolonged second act is anything more than repetitive buildup to an otherwise satisfying finale. It’s this kind of back-and-forth that makes The Other Half hard to sit through and not in the way that Klein intended.
The movie doesn’t give you any opportunities to sit back and observe – you feel every scene. This is despite the fact that cinematographer Bobby Shore elects to shoot in near-universally subdued ways. Even scenes that take place in direct sunlight feel chilled, and ones set in packed nightclubs feel empty. The Other Half is filled with a moment-to-moment sense of urgency.
This can be draining, considering that this is a film that sees its characters spend large amounts of time ensnared in deep contemplation or in some uncomfortable scenario of a whole other kind. A raw sequence in which Emily has a manic episode comes to mind, when emergency responders have to be called when all other methods of calming her fail. Maslany and Cullen’s performances are both powerful in that moment, and throughout the film at large. This makes it difficult for me to say that The Other Half isn’t worth seeing, but like many projects of this nature, a passionate drive on Klein’s part to tell this story seems to outweigh other rationalizations on the nature that it should inhabit.
It’s no secret that we’re in desperate need of more stories like this one, which don’t shy away from issues of mental health and illness. Yet there’s an undeniable sense that this particular movie wasn’t quite ready. Perhaps some kind of short(er) film treatment would have been more appropriate – a more detached and abridged series of snapshots that are not so much bound to the ramifications of the daunting feature length. Rewrites or recuts would have taken it from an otherwise good movie restrained by its own structural limitations, to something much more effective. This is a production that feels like it was almost there.