For about the first 10 minutes of That’s Not Us I have to admit I allowed my preconceptions to get to me. I think it was the seemingly arbitrary artifice of the set-up that got to me – sticking one gay couple, one straight couple and one lesbian couple in a house together.
However, I quickly had to admit I’d prejudged the movie, as this is a film that’s more interested in these people as human beings than in comparing and contrasting their sexualities. That’s not to say their sexuality doesn’t play into the movie, just that it informs their interactions rather than leading them.
These three city couples come together for a getaway in a beachside house, where they hope to escape from their everyday issues, but almost inevitably it ends up bringing their problems to a head. James and Spencer are deeply in love and seem to be the perfect couple. However, Spencer has been accepted into university in Chicago, something neither are dealing with despite the fact it could separate them, putting it off by Spencer saying he doesn’t know whether he will go, and James simply saying how happy he is for his partner.
Alex and Jackie meanwhile have been together a long time, but haven’t had sex in several months. One of them brings a dildo on the getaway, in the hope of sparking something, but the reaction they get isn’t the one they wanted. Over the course of the weekend they begin to realise that sex may be less their problem than communication is. Finally there’s Dougie and Liz, who certainly don’t have a problem having sex – indeed they have a lot of it – even if Dougie doesn’t like going down on his girlfriend. He may also have issues with his ego, which mean he’s very bad at accepting help or admitting his weaknesses.
While the premise makes it seem like That’s Not Us is going to be very artificial, it quickly reveals itself to be something more human and complex. The characters are interesting and the film does a good job of ensuring that even when they’re being unpleasant you understand (or at least discover) what’s going on in their heads, which allows them to be relatable.
Likewise, the issues they are sorting out are very human, so that irrespective of the sexualities involved, most people will have had some experience of what they’re going through. Indeed, underneath everything they’re all dealing with issues of power and communication, as well as the fears that stand in the way of expressing that. Those things cut across sexualities and genders, even if the ways they deal with them may be slightly different.
For example, with Dougie and Liz, the issue of Dougie wanting to look after his girlfriend and becoming angry if she tries to help him, isn’t uncommon. However, by placing them their issues alonsgside a gay couple and a lesbian couple, you mind wanders to whether there is an unconscious misogynistic edge to Dougie’s attitude that would express itself differently if he was dating a man – that is, is Dougie’s issue due to his ideas of gender and what he thinks a man and a woman should be? Even so, you know that even if the others might not face exactly the same issue in the same way, they could be dealing with something very similar. Indeed, I presume the title is at least partially a reference to the idea that there is more that we share, irrespective of sexuality and gender, than separates us.
There’s a real empathy for the characters and an endearing belief that as long as the love is there, communication is the key to solving problems. That’s Not Us is a surprisingly sweet film, with some moments of humour and lightness, which feed into a drama that’s far more absorbing than you might expect, thanks to interesting characters, some good acting and real chemistry between the couples.
Overall Verdict: The premise may seem artificial but the movie itself is far more human, going beyond sexuality to explore the difficulty of communication in relationships and the ways you can keep love alive.
That’s Not Us had its European Premiere on September 27th 2015 at the Raindance Festival, and also screen on September 29th.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac