“Would you tell me if I was bad for you?” That’s the problem with toxic relationships. Even where one or the other knows that their partner is bad for them, they’re unable to admit it. We’ve all seen friends go through these and there’s usually nothing you can can say or do other than try to be as supportive as you can. Because these things usually don’t end well, whether for some tangential reason or the one you suspected all along. In The Other Half, first-time writer/director Joey Klein dives into such a relationship to see if there can be a happier ending.
Nickie (Tom Cullen) has moved to the US, running away from his family and life in the UK after a family incident that has left him feeling angry and broken. Working at a small restaurant and driving a cab, he is basically checked out from life. Nickie owns no phone and numbly walks through life, seemingly only feeling anything when his blind rage takes over, with violent results. It’s in this state, and in a moment of such rage, that he meets Emily (Tatiana Maslany). Though that particular incident doesn’t end in violence, the seeds are clearly there, but any warning signs are trumped by Em’s intrigue and attraction. Even after she witnesses another such incident, one that does end in violence and understandably leaves her freaked out, she only dives deeper into the relationship. (While I won’t say much of the specifics of their relationship, I will note that there is no violence from him directed toward her, nor does the film even really threaten that it might go in that direction.) Meanwhile, as Emily eventually nervously tells Nickie, she suffers from Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder 1. Needless to say, things between them get complicated.
Nickie and his anger seem to be no good for Em, and her own disorder doesn’t seem to be something Nickie is in an emotional state to properly deal with. Klein explores whether this is a way the two can make a life together, but he does it without getting cheap. Bipolar, in particular, can easily be played for laughs or can go maudlin, but Klein handles is with respect and thoughtfulness. He’s helped, of course, by Maslany, who Orphan Black fans already know is a tremendously talented under-the-radar actor. While her role is the more “showy” role, it’s Cullen who is the real standout, playing this quiet and deep-seeded anger with a surprisingly nuanced warmth and humanity. In fact, the only thing as to either of their performances that I can criticize is the somewhat lacking onscreen chemistry, which is surprising given their real-life relationship status (they’ve said they tried not to lean on that and explore other relationship dynamics, and that may have ultimately been an unwise choice).
As for Klein, this is a solid first feature outing, particularly as a director. The framing and pacing are excellent, he plays with sound and music in an interesting (though not innovative) way, and either he or his editor makes some really great choices with the out-of-sync pairing of dialogue and the underlying visual scene. As for the writing, it’s somewhat lacking. Despite great performances and good direction, the film doesn’t pull you in as much as you’d hope. This may be the reason for the lack of depth given to Nickie beyond his grief and anger. I also have to assume the writing plays a part in the lack of chemistry between the two leads. However, I will give Klein credit for how he ends the film. There are only two ways for this movie to end, but Klein found a way out without running down either road. It’s not a happy or hopeful ending, nor is it sad or tragic. Like the film itself, this is a complicated relationship with things working for and against it. We ultimately don’t really know if Nickie or Em are good for each other, but the direction and performances at least make the film itself a good one.
The Other Half had its world premiere at South by Southwest 2016.