DVD Review - That's Not Us

There have been several films, mostly independent films about a group of people who vacation for a weekend in some kind of summer home and who then have to deal with problems or issues in their relationships. The best or the most well-regarded, American offering is The Big Chill (1983). That film follows a person's death. Similar films don't involve as heavy a subject matter. They lower the stakes as to make their movies more commonplace and authentic to average life. Sometimes, these films are a way of exploring certain social mores. One such, recent example was Beside Still Waters (2014). This movie is very much in that same vein. The problem is the stakes are so low and the conflicts are too banal. The performances range from endearing to annoying. Director and co-writer William C. Sullivan has a nice sense of humor and pacing, but there's not much weight or gravity here.

The movie focuses on three couples who spend a few days in a beach house somewhere in New York, maybe on Long Island. One couple is gay. One couple is lesbian and the third couple is straight. Sullivan's screenplay doesn't provide a lot of context as to how these people know each other or why they're together, or what the overall group dynamic is.

From what can be gathered, the lesbian couple is at the center. They are Alex who has short-blonde hair and Jackie with medium-long, black hair. Who knows what they do? Alex's sister forms one-half of the straight couple and Alex's best friend supposedly forms one-half of the gay couple.

There aren't many group scenes. There might be only two, brief ones. The majority of the scenes are the couples cornered off. We don't get Alex talking to her sister. There's a moment when the two sisters are talking in the background, but we never hear what they're saying or get an idea of what that relationship is. It's more about the couples but at times it seems as if these people are existing in bubbles.

As such, a lot of the things that the couples argue feel so contrived. Or else, all of the things argued would only come up if one searched Twitter using #WhitePeopleProblems. Presumably, Sullivan has crafted a drama, but there are jokes here and a level of levity that one could classify this as a comedy as well. In that regard, the #WhitePeopleProblems might not be a criticism but an accurate commentary on a possible, satirical bent. However, that interpretation doesn't seem like what this movie was really striving for.

Sullivan seems like he wanted the audience to take these people seriously. Yet, that's difficult when the lesbian couple's issue involves a rainbow dildo and the straight couple's issue involves a bicycle. The gay couple is the only one with anything even resembling a problem that's even remotely important or worthy of a drama. Sullivan's path for exploring that problem though is rather circuitous.

Unfortunately, instead of making the movie about the actual problem, Sullivan makes the movie about the problem of miscommunication. Instead of talking about the problem, the characters talk about talking about the problem or their inability to talk about the problem. By the time the characters do get to discussing the actual problem, it's in the last few minutes and it's in such a tangential as well as dismissive way.

For example, the gay couple is James and Spencer. Who knows what James does for a living, but Spencer got accepted into grad school at the University of Chicago to pursue his Master's degree in education with the intent of being a chemistry teacher. Their issue is that Spencer going to Chicago would mean that he would have to separate from James for two years.

Instead of talking about that, the two dance around it, even in their two main arguments. It's frustrating and makes the characters come across as more whiny than anything else. The two actors, Mark Berger and David Rysdahl, give great performances, but the direction fails them unfortunately.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language and graphic sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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