Between Us: Slamdance Review

The play-turned-film about marital friction is no Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Two couples define "awkward dinner party" in Dan Mirvish's adaptation of Joe Hortua's play.

PARK CITY -- Deeply unpleasant to watch with little edification to offer in compensation, Dan Mirvish's Between Us invites viewers to spend two evenings with a pair of married couples whose relationships are, to put it mildly, in jeopardy. The Slamdance co-founder presumably didn't need a quartet of established thesps to get his film on the schedule here, but those names -- especially that of Julia Stiles -- will be crucial in getting this film seen by anyone outside of Park City.

Stiles and Taye Diggs play Grace and Carlo, relative newlyweds struggling to maintain a bohemian existence in Manhattan. In the first of the film's two encounters, they've gone to visit the Midwest home of Carlo's old schoolmate Joel (David Harbour) and his wife Sharyl (Melissa George). This reunion is intercut with a New York-set visit, a year or two later, whose icy start suggests just how badly the first evening will go.

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Class issues are evident from the start -- though both men are photographers, Joel's soul-selling commercial work (and Sharyl's inheritance) means the old buddies now have vastly different standards of living -- but that's not the first cause of strife. Instead, Joel and Sharyl are sniping at each other, acting out a version of young parenthood that terrifies their guests and threatens the living-room furniture. Cue whispered "promise we'll never be like that" talk between Grace and Carlo.

Tables have turned in the later setting, with the Midwesterners enjoying almost sickeningly rejuvenated love while money worries (and the baby they'd never expected to have) have the New Yorkers at each other's throats.

If that sounds like tidy symmetry, we've hardly even started. Mirvish and Joe Hortua's script (adapting Hortua's play) reads like something crafted to keep each cast member equally engaged: Like a Musical Chairs of annoyance, characters trade off their bad behavior. One is drunkenly sarcastic while others make peace, another gets bitchy while her husband struggles for dignity. The characters' sometimes unconvincing mood swings aren't helped by regular breaks for what must have been spotlight monologues onstage and have here become storytelling flashbacks -- scenes whose potential to shed light on the characters' psyches is undercut by their obviousness as dramatic devices.

Production Company: Bugeater Filmed Entertainment

Cast: Julia Stiles, Melissa George, Taye Diggs, David Harbour

Director: Dan Mirvish

Screenwriters: Joe Hortua, Dan Mirvish, based on the play by Joe Hortua

Producers: Dan Mirvish, Hans Ritter, Mike S. Ryan

Executive producers: Brent Stiefel, Dana Altman, Barry Hennessey, Elana Krausz, Christo Dimassis, Victoria Guenier

Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber

Production designer: Tracey Gallagher

Music: Tobias Enhus, H. Scott Salinas

Costume designer: Tracey Moulton

Editor: Dean Gonzalez

Sales: Peter Trinh, ICM

No rating, 90 minutes