Much like Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel, the opening minutes of Colin Thompson’s second feature, It’s Us, present absurdly unlikeable characters, but also like Perry’s 2011 production (his second feature), the me-first ‘tudes are communicated through magnetic performances from the commanding leads.
Opening with a 30s-something couple navigating the streets of Hollywood, a smug agent named Joe II (Thompson as his own star) bickers with his aloof passenger/wife, Joe (Eliza Coupe). Through a rat-a-tat-tat collection of f-bombs and surreal complaining (mainly from the bro-talkin’ male), it becomes evident that such a couple will probably be going directly home for even more fighting, surely followed by some make-up sex. The introductory car scene goes on a bit too long, and the pacing feels awkward during a pivotal moment, but even so, the core personalities “shine” through, as Thompson’s character melts down over seemingly trivial events while Coupe’s Joe finds comfort through a touch screen. They don’t seen see each other, but the viewer undoubtedly sees them.
However, Joe and Joe II don’t have that much needed make-up sex, and while the latter doesn’t seem to have been counting down the days since the last rendezvous, the tattooed-female in the relationship (perhaps the more dominant figure) knows exactly how long it’s been, and she painfully watches her man perform a rendition of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” during breakfast preparation. With more emphasis placed on delivering nasty one-liners to each other than genuine affection, the couple reaches the conclusion that perhaps they just might be giant assholes. After all, Joe II takes pride in being THAT GUY who teases his own insults in public before delivering the real thing (“your brain’s a terrible cornerback”), and just when you think these two may possibly stab each other with shards of broken wine glasses, they find a renewed physical attraction upon deciding to leave Hollywood behind for a temporary retreat in Vermont.
As a writer, Thompson combines typical Hollywood bro cliches with original jabs for his character, and as a result, the less-horrible Joe becomes that much more likable compared to her wallowing counterpart. Evoking somewhat of a hardened exterior (at times) yet still incredibly feminine and alluring, Coupe’s Joe doesn’t back down from her unbearable beau, even when he begins a running gag about killing himself. Thanks to the natural chemistry between the two leads and their characters’ ability to hate/love each other to the fullest, the prolonged sequences of verbal warfare unveil moments of poignant truths, and it becomes clear that each self-loathing individual has reached some kind of epiphany.
By moving the action away from Hollywood to the outdoors of Vermont (and introducing objective observers), Thompson reveals the natural selves of Joe and Joe II away from their usual setting of extreme posturing. During a dinner with Joe’s high school friend Nelson (Jay Hayden), Joe II continues his detached yet painfully aware husband routine and finds new ways to bash his wife, perhaps hoping that his fellow dude would give him a nod of approval. Whereas Nelson wears his baseball cap like most people his age (forward), Joe II reveals himself to be the 30s-something backwards hat guy, one who so desperately wants to understand the essence of his pain but can only find creative ways to retain (and develop) a certain persona. And when the couple visits a local restaurant, they must come to grips with some curious moments of levity.
From a visual standpoint, there’s nothing incredibly moving within the 88 minutes of It’s Us (aside from the country cinematography), yet the relatively safe direction keeps the emphasis on the ebb and flow of the couple’s interactions. As someone unaware of Coupe’s past credits (Happy Endings, Casual), I was legitimately stunned by her screen presence alone; a revelation to be sure, at least in terms of independent film. And though Joe II’s douchebaggery may become unbearable to some viewers, Thompson has enough charm to pull it all off with his sharp dialogue, allowing both characters to transcend the usual story of city couple gone country.
Energized by two charismatic leads, It’s Us beautifully explores the process of early 30s decision-making and how one deals with the consequences of questionable actions.
Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is the founder and editor of Vague Visages. He graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) in 2004 with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History, and from 2006 to 2012, Q.V. (Quinn) lived in Hollywood, California. He now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.