Running Time: 100 minutes
UK Certificate: 18
Country: United Kingdom
'Married/Unmarried' is a film that should be approached with several caveats in mind. First, it was originally written (if never actually performed) by director Noli as a stage play, and although it has a striking visual style and some mobile scene-leaping edits that could never be reproduced on the stage, its theatrical roots remain exposed owing to clipped, unnaturalistic dialogue and a highly formal structure. Second, although firmly focussed on sexual relationships, this is no romantic comedy, and should probably be avoided by anyone on a hot date.
If none of this puts you off, then you are in for a highly stylised and deeply confronting journey into the darker urges of human desire. Amanda (Gina 'Coupling' Bellman) and Paul (Paolo Seganti) got married seven months ago, opting for a conventional life of stability and predictability together, whereas their friends Kim (Kristen McMenamy) and Danny (Ben Daniels) are a modern couple who have been going out for some time, but without any long-term commitment to each other. In a series of six two-person scenes involving all the possible pairings of these friends, as well as a single scene where the four come together, we see their outwardly very distinct characters merge and blur in unexpected ways, as all of them reveal a common itch for what they do not have – and all are profoundly dishonest, except for Danny, who is instead a thoroughly unpleasant, self-serving hater of women.
With its cold characters, sexual cruelty, and mannered mise-en-scène, 'Married/Unmarried' falls somewhere between the feature films of Peter Greenaway and early Neil LaBute ( 'In the Company of Men' and 'Your Friends and Neighbours'). There are bold flourishes in the film's design, featuring starkly colour-coded sets and costumes that work miracles from the minuscule £200,000 budget, and the fluid urban score by Mark Ryder and Cp Olins bring a sophisticated cool to the proceedings – but really this is a film about talk, and that is where it is let down. The overtly artificial dialogue at first has a certain idiosyncratic charm, but as the scenes stretch on for too long, the overwrought lines quickly begin to grate, and despite their best efforts, the actors are clearly struggling to seem like real characters rather than mere mouthpieces for contrived banter.
If 'Married/Unmarried' is a drama about the relationships between four particular people, it fails properly to engage because they are never really believable. If on the other hand it is a broader allegory about the state of relations between the sexes, then many will be troubled by its consistent portrayal of the female sex as weak, compliant and willingly victimised. Danny's extreme sadism and misogyny is hardly meant to be attractive, but it is notable that only Paul offers a challenge to Danny's attitudes, in what is the film's best-written scene. Amanda and Kim, by contrast, come across as submissive doormats, and are far from substantial either as characters or as representatives of women.
Still, 'Married/Unmarried' looks good, is well performed, and the ferocity of its themes might just inspire some vicious arguments amongst its viewers – especially if they are couples.
It's Got: New perspectives on yoghurt advertisments and beauty pageants, some unconventional tips on the perfect risotto, an unusual use for a crucifix (unless you have seen the Exorcist, of course) and the line "I cant watch English porn - I keep expecting Anthony Hopkins to walk in with a tray of tea".
It Needs: A high tolerance from its viewer for both psychological cruelty and a certain pretentiousness.
Alternatives:his Wife and her Lover, In the Company of Men, The Cook, the Thief, Your Friends and Neighbours
An incendiary examination of sexual relationships – just a pity that its strong sense of style distracts from the content.