DVD Review: Between Us

STUDIO: Monterey | DIRECTOR: Dan Mirvish | CAST: Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George, David Harbour
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 7/30/2013 | PRICE: DVD $26.95
BONUSES: commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes
SPECS: R | 90 min. | Drama | widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Ever since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? transitioned from modernist theatre to Hollywood success, the “minimalist-stage-adaptation” movie genre has been a popular one among filmmakers. And why not? It carries a script with a track record, having proven itself off-Broadway. It allows for a low budget, requiring few actors and minimal sets. Its allure of great dialogue and Oscar-worthy soliloquies attracts top talent. Add them together, and you’ve got yourself a critically-acclaimed smash film.

Melissa George (l.), Julia Stiles, David Harbour and Taye Diggs (r.) in Between Us.

Except you don’t. Dan Mirvish’s independent drama Between Us, like most movies in this genre, suffers from two major drawbacks: stiff, stagey dialogue, and predictable scenes that artificially build and climax in an attempt at poignancy. Two couples, the husband’s old college friends, are reunited when Grace (Julia Stiles, TV’s Dexter) and Carlo (Taye Diggs, Dylan Dogg: Dead of Night) visit Joel (David Harbour, The Green Hornet) and Sharyl (Melissa George, Triangle). But things get awkward when Joel & Sharyl spend the entire time airing out their private issues to the discomfort of their friends. Fast forward a few years, and now the roles are reversed. Joel & Sharyl are doing great, so they visit Grace & Carlo, whose marriage is now on the verge of self-destruction. See what the writer did there? In case you can’t guess, the film ends with a big psychological free-for-all where “ugly truths are revealed” and everyone is exposed as the flawed, bitter human that they are.

Sounds exhausting? It is. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? succeeded because playwright Edward Albee had something important to say about marriage in the 20th Century, and he created four memorable, unique characters in which to say it. By contrast, writer Joe Hortura’s characters are one-dimensional and uninteresting- yet the script never comments on or acknowledges this. Grace & Carlo are supposed to be artsy hipsters, Joel & Sharyl materialistic yuppies. In actuality, all four of them are bland, superficial, interchangeable characters offering the audience no reason to care. We’re thrust right into the middle of their personal issues, then given nothing but clichés: the failed-artist-turned-rich-advertising-man, for example. There are snippets of good dialogue here and there, but that’s all they are- snippets that don’t come together to create anything complete. By the time we hit the big finale, the “revelations” are beyond predictable, and the emotional punch falls flat.

To their credit, the cast and crew of Between Us aren’t to blame. The actors do a remarkable job with the melodramatic dialogue, and Mirvish’s directing is sure-handed, getting the job done as needed. He even plays with sequence by jumping back and forth in time, but this desperate attempt at keeping things edgy becomes a gimmick when it never pays off. Every writer wants to be the next David Mamet, but it takes more than throwing a bunch of angry characters onto a stage to get there. For every Glengarry Glenn Ross, there are dozens of little films like this one, barking and barking without a bite.

Those who want to know more about the film can listen to the commentary track, watch the behind-the-scenes featurette, or check out some of the deleted scenes.

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.