Living Together

By Tim Winterstein

[CONTAINS SPOILERS]

Every year, there are certain themes that stand out from the films I watch at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Some of that is intentional, especially with short film blocks, but the confluence of themes in the films that are submitted seems more organic. A couple of years ago, post-apocalyptic films were everywhere, including a severely underrated gem called The Open (amirite, Jay?). Last year, it was social media and youth alienation.

But this year, what stood out to me was the difficulty of relationships, whether because of external circumstances, internal personality issues, or the confusion of the world in which we live. In particular, Pink Wall and Rosie pulled out different strands of the ties that bind people together, particularly in romantic relationships.

Pink Wall is intriguing, first of all, because it follows a non-linear timeline of six years in the life of Leon (Jay Duplass) and Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) as they work through their infatuation, jealousies, and expectations, both realized and not. The first scene is brilliant and effortless as it shows them dealing with an offensive comment from Jenna’s brother (who isn’t even shown. By the way, the framing of shots in this film is excellent.) They appear to be on the same page, but their different responses pull them into a screaming match in the courtyard of the restaurant.

It’s as awkward as it would be if you were standing there watching it. They both (as most couples do) bring in all sorts of past arguments, and you feel as if the relationship might implode then and there. It’s a familiar and recognizable argument. From there, though, the familiarity mostly ends for me. I don’t think that’s because the film isn’t realistic. I think it’s because I’ve been married for nearly 18 years, and I have no experience with the way people meet and date. But the more I see of that world, the happier I am that it’s not mine. But that means that most of Pink Wall, as good as it is as film, is foreign to me.

I was discussing it with a filmmaker of a different film, and he said that because he had recently gotten out of a relationship, it felt very real to him. And that’s probably the difference for me, as well as what makes it realistic for people who are trying to navigate a world in which romantic relationships seem to have lost all their bearings. Everything is being made up as people go along. There are no more cultural or external expectations, so everything is thrown onto people who probably aren’t prepared for it. In one sense, that has probably always been true, but the turmoil in communication and expectations is even more forceful now.

Rosie (written by Roddy Doyle), inspired by a real crisis of homelessness in Ireland, shows the strength of familial bonds, in spite of surrounding and building pressure. The eponymous character is maybe the strongest female character (without superpowers) I’ve seen recently. Whereas Pink Wall shows a couple unraveling from within, the family in Rosie is held together only because of the inner bonds of that family. The film opens with Rosie (the amazing Sarah Greene) trying to find a hotel room in which to stay a few nights, even one or two—okay; one night will do. John Paul (Moe Dunford, excellent in the supporting role) is working in a restaurant trying to make ends meet in order to get Rosie and their children back into a permanent house.

What’s striking about this film—and no doubt one of the main points being made—is that neither Rosie nor John Paul are subject to any vices or addictions, even alcohol. It’s difficult sometimes for those who have permanent housing to empathize with those who do not. At least, it’s difficult for me. Rosie shows a family that is not in their situation because the parents are bad, or addicted, or profligate. Rosie makes sure her children are at school, even if a little late. She spends all day trying to find places for them to sleep. And then she picks them up from school again.

This is a movie about Rosie as a mother, and so John Paul necessarily takes a backseat. Even then, it’s not clear how dedicated he is to the family itself. Rosie’s all-encompassing commitment to her children sometimes appears to be contrasted to John Paul’s nonchalance. But in the final scene, we see who he is, as we’ve seen who Rosie is. They haven’t been able to find a hotel room, and so they’re settling in to the car to sleep for the first time. John Paul realizes that the kids won’t sleep as long as one of the parents is in the backseat with them. So he tells Rosie that he’ll sleep at his brother’s.

Watching him walk away from the car, I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t stay with his children and have Rosie go to his brother’s house. But then he walks a short distance, turns around, and pulls himself up on top of a dumpster. As the camera pans back around, we see that he has situated himself so that he can watch over the car with his family in it.

I think a lot about how few movies about relationships would even have a plot if the main couple got married first and then had children second. We don’t even really know or like each other, but now we have a child! What are we going to do? Am I going to raise this child, possibly on my own? Do I have any confidence that this other person is going to stick around after tonight? The problems created by doing things (at least from the perspective of creation) backward would essentially be resolved if the order were love, marriage, and then a baby carriage. That is not to say, of course, that all problems would be resolved and relationships would be perfect. But if relationships and marriage are hard enough, why compound the problem?

And it’s not only in movies that people create additional problems by ignoring marriage in favor of immediate gratification. I don’t have to marshal the evidence for you; it’s abundantly clear. Marriage isn’t involved in either Pink Wall or Rosie. But the trajectories of the relationships are in opposite directions.

Leon and Jenna find very little to hold them together when it matters. They discover that they don’t really understand each other as well as they thought they did at the beginning, when they were caught in their infatuation. Their own personal goals come into conflict. And at the end they’ve almost switched positions from how they stood at the beginning: now Jenna is the confident one, whose career is on the rise, while Leon’s career and life are stagnant. They find themselves at a pass on which so many relationships founder, whether married or not: what is actually keeping us with each other? “Love” is dying or dead. There’s little even physical attraction. What now?

While we are left to infer most of their inner motivation, Rosie and John Paul seem bound to one another by an unbreakable bond. Or, at least, if anything were able to break them apart, it would be the nearly insurmountable circumstances of homelessness. Everything is opposed to them. There is no help; there is only a faceless bureaucracy. But they laugh and play in between the tears. They do what is necessary. Apparently, Sarah Greene even told Moe Dunford that she wouldn’t be able to do what her character does without blowing up at the children. Rosie has almost infinite patience, and even when her patience slips, she immediately apologizes.

Rosie and John Paul have made a commitment to each other and to their children, and even if it’s them against the whole world, the world will have to give way before they do. In the end, the world as it is doesn’t really contain any hope for either Leon and Jenna or Rosie and John Paul. But while both movies end uncertainly, it is clear that Rosie is the more hopeful movie, based on John Paul and Rosie’s—but especially Rosie’s—steadfastness. 

One thought on “Living Together

  1. It is true in our day that more couples seem to prefer cohabitation without marriage as a choice, but in my view, many I have met just don’t want a serious commitment.. Some of these folks want relationships they can discard easily if the going gets tough. Others just follow the flexible moral code now popular. The same group who discard traditional marriage are customarily less religious. It is sad, because it affects the solidity of the family unit and the morals of the culture. I suppose it is just another symprom of social dysfunction, and in a larger sense, evidence of our fall from grace .

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