Three couples–one straight, one gay and one lesbian–head to an isolated island for one last relaxing summer weekend.
This is the premise of That’s Not Us, which had its world premiere at the Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto this weekend, and it feels like the filmmakers are trying a little too hard to be inclusive. Is it possible for three couples who just happen to be straight, gay and lesbian to be friends and want to spend a beach weekend together? Absolutely. However, on screen the perfectly balanced offering of binary sexualities comes across as a bit forced in an attempt to prove that, regardless of who we choose to sleep with, relationships between couples aren’t that different.
Fortunately, the premise is the only thing that feels forced about director William Sullivan’s fully improvised film. Made on a literal shoestring of a budget and shot over just eight days, That’s Not Us is full of spontaneity. Reminiscent of Denys Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire with more actual sex and a lot less politics, That’s Not Us is a free flowing conversation that explores modern day relationships, including what makes them tick, what makes them fall apart, and what it takes to pick up the pieces again.
While not particularly profound, there is a lot to appreciate about the way the film approaches this exploration. Instead of being force fed the fairytale, we are treated to actual relationships. They’re are work, but of the best possible kind, where the pay off is more than worth it. The result is a portrait of couples whose relationships are messy, full of misunderstandings and hurt feelings, as well as moments of giggly happiness and true connection.
To represent the progressions of relationships, Sullivan employs a kind of all inclusive gimmick again, giving us couples each at a different stage in their relationship. Dougie and Liz are still in the honeymoon phase and can’t keep their hands off of each other. Spencer and James have just moved in together and are facing their first major hurdle as a committed couple. Al and Jackie have been together for years and their relationship is starting to get a bit stale. To the film’s credit, the genders of the respective individuals are moot. Each relationship is presented as a milestone that everyone will either reach, or that has already been passed. The specifics might vary between couples, but the problems that arise are the results of personalities clashing, lives going in different directions and routines settling in–common issues across the board.
When all is said and done, it is the improvisational nature of the film that makes it so engaging. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but that’s part of its charm. All the actors are game and put everything they have into their performances. Most importantly, there is a fearless quality to the film that resonates. The actors are not afraid to experiment and neither is Sullivan or his film crew.
That’s No Us is full of jump cuts, missed moments and mistakes, but that only adds to the enjoyment of the final product. There is a feeling of a free fall with no safety net and it’s the not knowing how it’s going to turn out that makes it exciting. So “here’s to fucking it up,” because sometimes that’s what leads to the most memorable and entertaining moments.
Amanda is covering the 2015 Inside Out Festival live from Toronto. For more coverage of the festival, click here.