Wednesday, May 22, 2019

2019 CCFF Review: PINK WALL

by Patrick Bromley
Love hurts.

Pink Wall, the debut feature from writer/director Tom Cullen, charts the dissolution of a relationship between free-spirited Leon (Jay Duplass) and ambitious, Type A Jenna (Tatiana Maslany). Set across six years, told as essentially six longs scenes presented out of sequence, Pink Wall is more Before Midnight than it is Before Sunrise, concerned with the way couples can drift apart and begin to hurt one another in ways both large and small than it is in showing what drew the two together in the first place. It's not an anti-love story, but a story about what happens when love alone isn't enough.
There's not much to be said about relationships in Pink Wall that hasn't been said in a number of other films on the same subject. What's interesting about the structure of the movie, though, is that its fragmented presentation means that we aren't shown so many of the changes, the arguments, the moments where things begin to fall apart. We catch up with these characters in moments where all this history has already taken place, meaning that their every action and conversation is informed -- and sometimes poisoned -- by the beats we don't see. Director Cullen changes the aspect ratio for each of the years depicted so that when Jenna and Leon first meet, it's an intimate 1.33:1. By year six when everything has soured, the frame has gone super wide, creating as much distance between them as possible. It's nice to see actual filmmaking techniques used to depict emotional states instead of relying completely on dialogue to do it.

For as real and raw as Pink Wall can be in its best moments, there's little insight about relationships or why they go bad. The film is primarily interested in depiction, not understanding. The truth is that these are two people who most likely didn't belong together in the first place, a reality which neither the characters nor the screenplay are always seem willing to face. The movie wants to portray a good relationship that goes bad over time, but really it's about a relationship that never really stood a chance that somehow carried on for six years on fumes. Had Pink Wall been a bit more clear eyed about its central drama, there may have been a more unique and recognizable story to be told.
The film gets by on the strength of its performances, in particular Tatiana Maslany, who's required to do much more of the dramatic heavy lifting than Duplass, who mostly gets to be affable. It seems as though much of the movie is put together through improvisation, which allows both actors to live in their characters and create a genuine foundation together. It's Maslany who is always telling us something new about her character, even during her reaction shots. Watch the way she seems on the verge of exploding, especially during the world's most uncomfortable dinner party. It's incredible work, and if Orphan Black hadn't already made her a huge star, I would insist that this movie make that happen.

Pink Wall is good at being the movie it wants to be, even when it's not the kind of movie I'm into. It's quietly heartbreaking and overly familiar in equal measures, bolstered by its lead performances and some interesting directorial choices. Everyone does good work, but failed relationship movies tend to be one and done for me. This one is good enough to make the wounds feel fresh, even when the film isn't.

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