Tom Cullen is best known as an actor and his writing/directing debut, Pink Wall, owes something to the screen work he’s best known for – Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (Downton Abbey fans might disagree).
So, yes, it’s the story of a couple on the cusp of something which also manages to sum up, to an extent, what it’s like to be their age – around 30, when youthful dalliances start solidifying into something more lasting, long-term plans are being made and thoughts turn to having kids. In relationship terms, Pink Wall is about that moment when it’s time to shit or get off the pot.
The other film Pink Wall owes something to is François Ozon’s “backwards” romance 5X2, the one that took a broken relationship and rewound in five jumps back to the beginning, when things were peachy.
We meet Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) and Leon (Jay Duplass), a couple of expats living in the UK, in mid argument – her brother called him a cuck, and he’s upset, possibly because there’s a grain of truth in the insult. She’s an energetic and lively TV producer, he’s a bit of a do-nothing perfectly content to slob about, still living the life they lived when they first met.
Rewind a bit and there they both are, meet-cuting, finding each other attractive, drinking, taking drugs together and dancing to rave-y music. We see, in the rearview mirror that the reason why she now has a successful career is because he spotted something in her and encouraged her to pursue it. He’s not entirely useless but maybe… and this is the question the drama poses… the time has come for her to move on, or get stuck in an increasingly resentful relationship. Why can’t he be more like her; or her like him? He can’t start and she can’t stop, as Jenna puts it at one point.
The seeds of this asymmetry were there from the outset, the flashbacks in six distinct chunks show us, but they didn’t matter back then. In a central scene at a dinner party, Cullen catches the moment a year and a quarter into the relationship when youthful abandon and grown-up earnestness collide. As the conversations range from the male gaze to penis size, up and down the scales, Jenna finds herself backed into a corner, defending both herself and Leon when the subject of open relationships comes up, while he takes a back seat. Leon and Jenna’s relationship has plenty of time to run but something already isn’t right.
This pivotal scene gives Maslany all the space she needs to show how good she is, though it has to be said that she’s sensational in every moment of this film, from opening shot to last knockings. Some people the camera simply loves, and she is one of those people. Duplass – in a case of life imitating art, maybe – trails along to a certain extent in his co-star’s wake.
It’s a tough role for Duplass, though. Jenna goes from youthful hedonist to driven careerist but Leon doesn’t develop as a person. He has a Zen-like absence of ambition to grow and discover new things. Leon knows what he is and what he likes. What he really needs is a new audience who won’t have seen him run through his shtick before – kids, in other words.
The dynamic – he wants children, she’s got other things going on – upends the gender stereotypes to a certain extent and gives the film a lot of its bounce. However, don’t arrive expecting fireworks. This is a bijou film with a central “problem” apparent from the first scene, but Cullen and his actors work through it in a way that’s believeable and Leon and Jenna feel so familiar they could be a couple you know. Or even, god help you, you.
Pink Wall – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2021