Between Us is one of those movies in which people of the millennial generation are troubled mostly by millennial ideals, such as whether their relationships can survive the ennui of the relationship part of the relationship. The film is also a bit better than that suggests, if only because the performances are from good actors not content to simplify the circumstances here. It's just a shame that writer/director Rafael Palacio Illingworth so feels the need to incorporate obstrusive narration that, as is common with the device (a hacky and manipulative one in my mind), often merely states what is being shown to us. Within the stretches not reliant on dueling narration from our pair of protagonists, the film hits a few high points.
Henry (Ben Feldman) and Diane (Olivia Thirlby) have been in love with each other practically before they met, we learn in the opening moments that show an act of consummation between the two in extreme close-up. They plan to purchase an apartment, but Henry keeps stalling the process. He feels that the purchase of a place of residence is a kind of marriage, and a statement of such commitment frightens him, even as the two have entered the sixth year of a relationship that hasn't actually reached the point of engagement yet. Diane has the perfect solution: Marry in order to get the thing out of the way. They already feel married, so why not, she says. He agrees, with a telling reluctance that can only spell doom the for the young, urbanite couple.
And indeed, doom comes to pass with the introduction of infidelity into the mix. This involves quite the coincidence, which Illingworth passes over without any commentary on it. Henry meets Veronica (Analeigh Tipton), an electronic musician with an amorous streak, at the showing of his independently produced film. She believes his relationship with Diane is limiting his freedom. At almost precisely the same time, Diane meets Robert (Scott Haze), a client who is otherwise occupied with Nadia (Alison Sudol) but with whom she shares a chaste kiss that confuses her. Later, she begins a passionate affair with Liam (Adam Goldberg), an actor in a performance art piece who seems to be at a similar place in her life. The strain of guilt going in both directions is the thrust of the drama in Illingworth's screenplay.
The performances almost make this work. Feldman and especially Thirlby share adorable chemistry before the conflict sets in, and by the time they must confront their vices, the two actors are comfortable enough in their characters' skin to sell the moment. Tipton is disarmingly sensual and quite good at playing Henry's foil, a serious musician working within a genre not commonly taken seriously. The problem is that the whole thing exists within what the late Roger Ebert once called the Idiot Plot: One guesses that all of Henry and Diane's problems could be addressed through means (perhaps a sit-down talk) that weren't so blatantly manipulative. The actors understand this about the material their characters are given, and wisely the film refuses to judge them or their lovers for such decisions. It's just a shame that Between Us fumbles in its own efforts to make sense of this arrangement.
Ben Feldman (Henry), Olivia Thirlby (Diane), Analeigh Tipton (Veronica), Adam Goldberg (Liam), Scott Haze (Robert), Alison Sudol (Nadia).
Directed and written by Rafael Palacio Illingworth.
No MPAA rating.
Released in select cities on January 6, 2017.