Enjoyment of Joey Klein’s dour Canadian romantic drama The Other Half depends on how clearly you can see lead actors Tatiana Maslany’s and Tom Cullen’s facial expressions. The neophyte writer-director deliberately obscures his actors’ features with perilously low mood lighting and blurry close-ups to show us the world from the perspective of morose hothead Nickie (Downton Abbey‘s Cullen). He’s a middle-class Brit who, five years after his brother’s disappearance, falls in love with mysterious schoolteacher Emily (Orphan Black‘s Maslany).
Cullen’s performance is intense in its body language, but Klein draws attention away from it with all those distractingly impressionistic camera tricks meant to evoke Nickie’s depression. Klein films Cullen from the neck down when Nickie, shaken to learn that Emily is bipolar, shadow-boxes alone in his apartment. We can tell that he’s furious, given Klein’s emphasis on Cullen’s restless body, but we can only guess what else he might be feeling, since we’re denied the actor’s eyes, mouth or profile.
We also can’t fully empathize with Emily, as Maslany’s equally physical performance is presented through a flurry of jump cuts and canted angles. During a manic episode, she crawls around on all fours and jumps up and down before attacking a hapless police officer (Emmanuel Kabongo) — she could be turning into a fast-moving zombie for all we know. Maslany and Cullen’s characters seem intended to be psychologically realistic, but they’re only as complex as The Other Half‘s surface-deep style.
The Other Half
Written and directed by Joey Klein
Opens March 10
Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified this Canadian film as a British production and misstated two key details of the plot. The Voice regrets the errors.