Even at best of circumstances, relationships are hard. The Other Half, a romantic drama of the more dramatic order, offers a often unflinching, disorienting look at what it may feel like to be in a especially fraught one.
It is part cute, part fate when Nicky and Emily meet – he gets into a fight at his workplace and she jumps to his defense – and fall in love. They, as individuals, are not great. It always feels sort of cheap to try to describe a human struggle in a blurb like sentence but the essence is here: he is haunted by loss and grief, causing him to self-destruct in every way available to him, which renders him completely unable to put down roots or engage in meaningful permanence of any kind. She, on the other hand, has a condition that does have a name (bi-polar disorder), but that is no less easy to understand.
When they meet, Emily is in a relatively stable place, and a palpable connection is made as they embark on a relationship. Now, as well all know, embarking on a relationship, even to the most emotionally stable of spirits can wreck havoc on one’s equilibrium, and these two are in no way equipped to manage their emotional selves. The movie, all jagged edges, and blurred lines (literally), takes us on their journey. “It is going to be a bumpy ride” doesn’t even come close to covering it.
The ride involves dizzy highs, and lows as low as hospitalization. There is true, palpable, heartbreaking despair. This, in someone else hands, could make for a high wire melodrama act, but director Joey Klein – in his feature-length debut – has no interest in the melo parts of drama. Instead, he cranks the drama knob to 11, the disorientation visuals to 11.5, and as a viewer, it sometimes feels we are held hostage in this world. That may very well be the point.
Mental illness is a delicate, painful thing. Cinematically, it seems to usually work best in the context of some high concept setting (Black Swan, Fight Club, Memento) or with a pinch of bitter humor thrown in (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Lars and The Real Girl). The Other Half uses none of these distractions. It is just two people – people who are raw, broken, and trying to pick up their pieces – in front of you for one hours and forty minutes.
What makes the movie bearable (enjoyable seems to not be anyone’s goal) are the actors. Tatiana Maslany, who we know and love in Orphan Black, is a revelation. Luminous and human, she dives into Emily’s swings with abandon that is both thrilling and painful to watch. Tom Cullen, who plays Nicky, comes off as some unholy cross between Alex Karpovsky and Tom Hardy (which, admittedly, sounds like a fantasy for some BYT staffers). The only problem is how his troubles constantly threaten a frightening boil. These two actors are poised for big things.
The Other Half is not for everyone, but it is good and important it exists. Much like most relationships, just bear in mind you are entering at your own risk.