'Between Us': Tribeca Review

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
A frightening look into a post-nuptial abyss.

Olivia Thirlby and Ben Feldman should have thought this whole marriage thing through first.

Honeymoons don't get much bleaker than Between Us, Rafael Palacio Illingworth's look at the first day of a marriage that, perhaps, shouldn't exist. As the man and woman in question, Ben Feldman and Olivia Thirlby embody all the doubts and lifestyle-aspirational conflict that might derail an otherwise happy coupling, egging each other on to separate acts of betrayal. Familiar faces should help sell this upsetting drama, which mightn't be as devastating as, say, Blue Valentine, but should nevertheless earn respect at art houses.  

Henry (Feldman), a struggling filmmaker, has never pretended to need the bourgeois creature comforts that longtime girlfriend Dianne (Thirlby), a business-world hustler, could afford. Dianne has always said she was fine being the breadwinner in a bohemian household, but doubts start to arise when family members urge them to buy an apartment together. If they move to the suburbs, will they then need to have kids? Buy matching silverware? Get Costco memberships?

Venting their worries about what's expected of them, the pair have a discussion that seems to point one direction before bouncing the opposite way: "I mean, should we just get married and get the f—ing thing outta the way?" No proposal that is answered with the words "f—k it!" should be considered binding. Celebrating their default decision, they begin to chant "husband and wife" together, over and over with increasing volume, in a scene that looks like an acting exercise that was accidentally cut into the film.

They rush to City Hall and say "I do," have their Graduate-like "what now?" ride home, and immediately argue. One admits to something approaching infidelity; the other storms out of the apartment, probably to even the score. Both spend the next 12 or 18 hours pursuing erotic possibilities they've fantasized about, not immediately stopping when the reality doesn't play out as expected.

Illingworth begins his film with a digitally composited image representing the vague accretion of unease built up over years of living together, hovering unacknowledged in the middle of the living room. He later gets briefly meta, having Henry discuss a drama he's made in which he hopes the characters' conflict will feel to every viewer like his own interpersonal problems. But Illingworth's script pursues specificity, not just leading Henry and Dianne into temptation, but making these scenarios play like credible encounters. Adam Goldberg and Analeigh Tipton represent not just a grass-is-greener Other Man and Other Woman, but characters whose peculiarities we can already envision as future relationship-killers.

Not long ago, Thirlby co-starred in Red Knot, a more meditative film about a couple who start to go off the rails immediately after getting married. Like Feldman here, her husband there was a Mad Men veteran, Vincent Kartheiser. If this post-nup-doubt thing becomes a specialty for the actress, maybe next time she can play a gold digger with regrets alongside sugar daddy John Slattery. After these two affecting but somber outings, the comedic potential of a story like that would be a real relief.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Production companies: Caviar, Nora Films
Cast: Olivia Thirlby, Ben Feldman, Adam Goldberg, Analeigh Tipton, Scott Haze, Peter Bogdanovich, Lesley Ann Warren
Director-screenwriter: Rafael Palacio Illingworth
Producers: Madeline Samit, Eleonore Meier, Bert Hamelinck
Executive producers: Michael Sagol, Dieter Meier, Allen Norin, Benito Mueller, Wolfgang Mueller, Michel Merkt
Director of photography: Todd Banhazl
Production designer: Nicolas Kelley Ruiz
Costume designer: Alexis Johnson
Editor: Daniel Raj Koobir
Composer: Ephrem Luchinger
Casting director: Orly Sitowitz
Sales: CAA

Not rated, 94 minutes