Actor Tom Cullen’s directorial debut Pink Wall is an intimate look at the full arc of a romance. Though the characters are multi-dimensional and their energy is raw, the whole thing feels more like an actors’ workshop than a cinematic exercise.
Jumping around throughout the six-year relationship of Leon and Jenna (Jay Duplass and Tatiana Maslany), Pink Wall focuses on moments rather than events. We first open to year four – announced via a title card – with a quiet family meal. We only ever see Leon and Jenna, but we hear the voices of Leon’s parents and brother at the pub table. They’re a charming and cozy couple, but after one uncouth joke, Jenna turns the friendly meal into a confrontation. This then spills outside to a scene of Jenna and Leon verbally brawling about seemingly everything in their lives. Cooking habits and their sex life are all on the table in this rapid-fire argument. But just as quickly as it began, it’s over and they’re once again hugging.
From here, we bob and weave through their years together. We see the pair meet on a dance floor. We see them struggle with their careers. We see them fall in and out of love. Jenna and Leon’s chemistry is undeniable and it’s easy to get caught up in their emotions. Duplass and Maslany are both mesmerizing as they craft complex characters through only a few segments of their lives together.
All of that is well and good, but the building of these characters sometimes stumbles over the unnecessarily quirky camerawork and unnatural dialogue. The intention seems to be for the mood of the relationship, but the effort behind these cinematic decisions is often too obvious to be clever. For example, there’s an entire segment where Leon and Jenna are framed exclusively from the nose down. Not a single, stylized shot mixed within a scene, it’s the entire scene. This is distracting and pulls away from the superb performances. Also, some of the dialogue makes such large leaps that it’s hard to believe. Director Cullen mentioned during the Q&A at the festival screening that some of the dialogue was improvised and built along a rough road map of landmarks to hit. It’s quite easy to guess which scenes these are, because the landmarks are called with the subtlety of a monster truck. This is another distraction from the core strengths of the film.
Settling in to characters’ lives and simply spending some time in their world is a worthy endeavor, and when the filmmaking in Pink Wall steps aside and lets us do just that, it’s lovely. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen nearly enough.