REVIEW | In a Relationship at Tribeca 2018

Millennials kind of suck at romance, and this movie proves it


If you thought dating in New York was impossible, apparently it gets even worse if you move to Los Angeles.

The joke goes that no one dates anymore, but instead they "hang out," or whatever the new term is. Labels are lame. Feelings are phony. And the term "in a relationship," from which this film derives its name, is completely outdated. But have any of us youngsters really changed what we want out of a relationship? At the risk of sounding very much like the beginning of a column from Carrie Bradshaw on an episode of Sex and the City, this is the question this film poses to the audience from the get-go. What the hell do we want out of a relationship?

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

In his feature length directorial debut, Sam Boyd builds from the short film of the same name he produced a few years back starring Dakota Johnson before the chains and whips of Fifty Shades of Grey in this effort. We see the lives of two couples: Owen and Hallie, who have been together for years and struggle to decide if they should continue along or take a break and see if they have better options; and Matt and Willa, friends of the others who are reconnecting and figuring out whether or not they are a suitable match with their opposite wirings. Results, like young relationships, are dramatic and messy.

Although some of the references are admittedly a little dated (I don't think anyone is watching documentaries and O.J. Simpson anymore, right?), they offer a comedic tone throughout the film, and also are often sweet, like when Matt surprises Willa with the O.J. trials tour of Los Angeles. Without these moments of the characters relating to our similar interests, they would be insufferable throughout the entire film. As it stands, they are only impossible to deal with some of the time.

The haziness of a summer post-college graduation also dwells nicely over these young adults. Matt lives in his parents' house and has sex in the same bed where he grew up on the same ridiculous rocket ship sheets. Owen's version of being a successful filmmaker is shooting and re-editing videos for bar mitzvahs. The women are somewhat more successful, Hallie having a photo in a gallery series and Willa waiting to get her graduate degree from USC. But overall, there is a sense for all of them that something more must need to be happening. This is certainly the way a lot of young people feel when caught up in the middle of their lives, and it comes across.

Where the film struggles is getting us to care about the problems of these specific characters. In each relationship, I felt myself taking a side within the first half of the film. Owen can hardly manage to do his own laundry or get through a day without needing to have sex or tell some filthy story, and he doesn't seem interested in Hallie who is arguably much more put together than he is. Similarly, Matt seems like a pretty good guy while Willa is more preoccupied with chasing down some jerk she liked in New York with a fake-sounding European name. Even if these relationships make the "better" character happy, we want them to do something good for themselves instead.

There is also so much self-pity for the characters. When something does not go their way, it is immediately time to share a joint, try acid, or get so drunk you find yourself taping beer bottles to your hands. Yes, all of these things happen. Perhaps I find myself personally bothered as a millennial, but it is hard to see whether or not this is done in sincerity or humor, to make the joke without condoning the action. By the end of the film, when the director takes us back to how all of these people first met, it seems so necessary because we hate the current versions of them. Maybe we'll like them better a bit earlier...

The only obstacles, therefore, getting in the way of these characters for finding happiness are themselves. That's a tough pill to swallow. It makes the film enjoyable but only to a point. Once Hallie is fooling around with a friend of hers just to get Owen's attention, or Matt is making Willa the second mix CD, or someone is crying about something and drinking ancient vodka straight from the bottle, you begin to forget about these fictional individuals and worry about a whole generation of kids, instead.

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

The biggest takeaway from this film would be a lengthy discussion about how the depiction of young adults is changing in cinema, and whether or not it can tell us anything about how this generation will go on to function in the future (particularly in relationships). Will they be able to make things work out, or will they instead just reach for the bottle, be it booze or pills? I don't think a film can answer that, but it's powerful to make us think on it for a bit.

Running time: 92 min | Director: Sam Boyd | Starring: Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Dree Hemingway, and more!

Find out more about In a Relationship here.

Rachel A.G. Gilman is a writer, a radio producer, and probably the girl wearing the Kinks shirt. Visit her website for more.

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