Although directing a film in exactly the same way you would stage a play might for some defy the purpose of making a movie, there is a good enough reason for Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish doing so in Between Us.
When a story is told through powerful dialogue and physically supported through lasting performances, and when the plot is driven forward by human emotions, rather than an unwavering conflict that needs to be resolved for the tale to end, there is no better medium to employ than theatre. A play will tell such a story in a gripping manner and the actors will be allowed to have fun with their characters and portray them as dramatically, freely and intensely as they wish. So when a filmmaker decides to adapt a successful off-Broadway play such as Between Us into a film, the more faithful he remains to the original form of the work and the more freedom he allows his protagonists, the more the fiery dialogue, the passionate personalities and the beautiful and realistic antagonism and cruelty that is to be found in real life and in this story, will get the opportunity to shine through.
This is what director Dan Mirvish does with Joe Hortua’s exquisite play, which with the playwright’s help, he turns into a screenplay for Between Us, the film. The premise might sound simple, but is far from it. Two friendly couples meet on two different occasions to spend a relaxed and fun evening together only to experience a nervous breakdown one after the other. Conversations regarding love and friendship, career choices and money, children and family, bring out all sorts of insecurities and regrets, bitterness and dark secrets. Once you’ve spoken, you can’t take it back. And once you’ve learned, you can’t unlearn.
A simple story to set up, extremely difficult to support, defend and carry through. But Between Us thrives, and does so in all areas. Captivatingly directed and edited, Mirvish lets his cast and Hortua’s dialogue shine, without interfering, without trying too hard, without causing a fuss. The characters are so high-maintenance anyway, that it often feels as if the filmmaker tries to keep it quiet by merely recording their conversations and staying out of their way. Whether they know what they’re doing or not, it doesn’t matter. They’re going through a series of nervous breakdown, and we better not mess with them.
Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs, Melissa George and David Harbour — best friends and sworn enemies, insecure and narcissistic, everyday lunatics and family people. Who knows what’s happening there, the only thing that’s certain is that they are not afraid to confront each other. They may be trying to maintain a courteous front, but their cover is blown before they succeed in fooling anybody. The four characters are the faces behind most our masks, the regrets behind the choices we so strongly still defend, and the bitterness behind our millionth smile. And the four actors portraying them are fascinating and infuriating at the same time. They anger you, but you respect them for their honesty. They grip you, but you wish their stories weren’t so hard to watch. They exude talent, but you wish their performances were less believable.
Dan Mirvish and Joe Hortua’s Between Us is observant but uncomfortable. It’s a real life and real people study. It’s intense and it’s sharp. It’s dark and it’s funny. As a matter of fact, it’s too dark. And too funny.