'The Other Half'
‘The Other Half’ is a certain type of destructive love story where no matter how much joy is visible on screen, viewers are acutely aware how wrong and impossible it is. Anchored by a pair of incredible performances, it’s easy to get lost in the movie… for a while.
The trouble is that this sort of movie is predictable in its own unpredictable way. It’s as easy to see the sadness coming as the joy. It’s good, just not quite the impactful power punch of woozy melancholy romance that actor-turned-director Joey Klein was striving for.
Tom Cullen from ‘Downton Abbey’ stars as Nickie, a Brit lost in Toronto. He has a tragic past that caused him to flee across the ocean, which he’s never quite recovered from. He wanders around, a raw nerve just waiting to explode with grief and rage. He does so frequently. Eventually, one of his outbursts catches the eye of Emily (Tatiana Maslany), a bi-polar artist in the midst of a brief window of stability in her life. The pair quickly lose themselves in each other’s arms. The comfort they feel together is only matched by the volatility they slather over everyone else who comes close. Eventually, Emily has a breakdown that tears them apart. She comes back against her doctor’s wishes and they attempt to rekindle the whole thing again. Any thoughts on whether this story will have a happy ending?
Klein keeps his cameras locked on his troubled protagonists throughout, unwilling to waver or weave from their turbulent lives for even a moment. The cinematic style is mostly observational. Handheld cameras and probing tracking shots following them into darkness are the mood of the day. The filmmaking can become subjective to match the wounded and raw mental states and emotions of the characters. At the same time, viewers are never quite allowed into the characters’ heads. We may come to appreciate and care for the lovers, but we never quite understand them, and that keeps their behavior ever so slightly out of grasp.
The performances are remarkable and deliberately portrayed in contrast to each other. Cullen is all brooding and all interior. As much as Nickie opens himself up to the relationship, he closes off everyone else (including the audience at times). He’s so pent up that it’s hard not to feel your sphincter squeeze in his presence, and his bursts of rage and violence are as painful to watch as they must be to fall victim to. However, there’s a sensitivity beneath the rage. He’s secretly a soft soul; he’s just not sure what to do with all these feelings that long seemed dead. (Yawn!)
Even better is Maslany. By playing a character with such unpredictable streaks of wild emotion, she seems to be giving a number of varied performances all at once. At times she’s buoyant and bouncy, other times coldly withdrawn. Everything is big and full tilt, yet Maslany never stretches beyond the realm of realism. She’s always very clearly in control and wholly believable. It’s a strong portrayal of mental illness – raw, real, uncompromised, and never once demanding pity. She steals the movie away from her equally talented co-star.
That all sounds pretty good, right? It is. Unfortunately, it never really goes anywhere particularly surprising and it gets repetitive fast. Anytime everything seems to run smoothly in the relationship, it’s obvious one of the lovers will explode and spoil it. Every time things seem awful, it’s clear that salvation will come in a few scenes. Klein milks an uneasy tension in the relationship in a manner that’s both creepy and romantic, but when the same tricks keep popping up in mildly different forms, it becomes a bit tedious. There are only so many quietly whispered promises followed by volatile bursts of violence or emotion that you can take before the effect wears off and you feel like you’re being prodded by a directorial stick.
Even so, enough of ‘The Other Half’ works that it’s hardly a failure. Klein shows promise as a filmmaker, and both Cullen and Maslany deliver extraordinary performances worth following to the bitter end. The film probably could have been a half hour shorter and lost nothing, but if that was the case, this wouldn’t be a feature.