Oftentimes when someone writes and directs a movie and then cast themselves in the lead role, there’s a tendency to try to underplay the flaws of that character and make it seem like nothing is really their fault. It’s to Philipp Karner’s credit that he doesn’t smooth his character’s rough edges – indeed some will think the person he plays is often a bit of a dick – which allows this to be a much sharper movie than it might otherwise have been.
Like You Mean It is a character study, but the character isn’t so much a person as a relationship. Mark (Karner) and Jonah (Denver Milord) have been together for some time, and while Jonah is happy with the domestic normality and routine that their life has settled into, Mark isn’t so sure. Jonah is surprised to discover that not only does their relationship have problems, but it may be on the verge of ending.
They try counselling, but Mark has trouble committing to it. He also goes back on anti-depressants, in the hope of finding some balance. However, with Mark’s acting career going nowhere and a constant feeling that he’s never going to be the man Jonah needs, he may not be able to solve the problems and the relationship may be beyond saving.
It would have been easy for a movie like this to dissolve into histrionics, with constant screaming matches and characters so lightly drawn you would know from the very beginning whether they were going to work things out or not. To its massive credit, Like You mean It is far subtler and more interesting than that. Mark and Jonah are just normal guys with a normal relationship. There is no doubt that they care about one another, it’s just that a sense of ennui has set in and Mark may have reached a stage in his life where he cannot overcome that, and may have realised that they will both end up holding each other back from true happiness.
The movie intercuts where they are now with a particular moment from their early days together, contrasting the rush of excitement of new love with the reality of a long-term relationship. It allows the film to question whether a relationship where nothing is terribly wrong can become the ghost of what it once was, or whether people can end up pining for something that could never last – new love – and which it’s almost foolish to expect to constantly recapture.
Many will recognise aspects of what Like You Mean It is exploring from their own lives. That’s especially true if they’ve been in a relationship that’s felt stuck in a rut, where you can’t say you dislike the other person or think they’re a bad human being, but the spark has gone and you may be continuing with something that ultimately won’t make either of you happy. The movie handles it extremely well, with real empathy for the characters and a constant melancholy over the fact that at the start of a relationship happiness can be found in real simplicity but can be so elusive and difficult to capture later on. Indeed, there are moments where the film is almost angry life has to be that way.
It’s certainly not a constantly jolly film, but it looks its subject in the eye and does it with aplomb, helped by good performances from Karner and particularly Denver Milord as Jonah, who is sweet and nice, yet also staid enough that you can understand why someone like Mark, who feels in need of change, might wonder if they’re right together in the long run.
I’d be willing to bet that as many people think the movie reaches the right conclusion as the wrong one in regard to what happens with their relationship, but that’s largely due to the fact it’s extremely good at studying Jonah and Mark without judging them.
Overall Verdict: Like You Mean It may be a rather melancholic film throughout its runtime, but it’s also an extremely good one, subtly dissecting a fizzling relationship in a way that feels real and very well handled.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac