5 July 2016 | tributarystu
The Undergrowths of Married Life
I've never liked truth or dare, so as soon as one of the characters suggested a truth/dare like game for a peaceful get together with friends, I knew at a personal level that the worst would come about. 'Single room' movies, ever so dependent on a strong script, can easily become overbearing, if wit does not overcome the wry mundaneness of life and the timing of events is not both harmonious and believable. When a theater play is the source material, you know at least that there's a pedigree to the writing before you embark on the journey, so this blind test was something different to, let's say, Carnage (an engrossing adaptation itself). But different good.
A group of life-long friends gather at a dinner party, as the prologue already hints at cracks in the relationships between the couples coming together. The device meant to drive them towards unraveling is a 'game' wherein everyone lays their mobile phones on the table and all messages and calls are answered/viewed in public - funny enough, someone still has a Nokia! Well, the tension is palpable from the get-go and as two of the friends make a 'trade' in the hopes of mitigating fallout from an expected text, this actually proves to be the least of their problems.
As mentioned above, the first questions to answer pertain to timing and believability. The execution of the escalation scenario is convincing, in that it builds well towards a final release. However, your sense of disbelief is tested at certain points, as too much seems to be happening at once. It's inevitable and the film deals with it in a very clever way, but the premise remains questionable - that everyone gets up to so much mischief in an exciting way.
The set-up is used to deliver some relevant arguments about the nature of relationships, the meaning of trust and the way that technology works as a filter. All lives are presumed to be defined by some sort of multiplicity, of things that happen which we don't share with those around us because they are hard to explain, hurtful or simply duplicitous. In a way, it has never been so easy to deceive, while actually being just an unwanted glance away from one's reveal. The movie argues that what we ultimately see is the veneer of authenticity, so intricately holding together a web of lies, even among the thickest of friends. What it does even better is point to the fact that while there are some rules of thumb to explain the behaviour of other people, really understanding which rules apply to whom is a question of context and of prejudices.
What remains difficult to obscure is the artificiality of some of the situations - related to the need for entertaining drama. Worrying too much about surprising the audience with shock after shock is damaging not only in itself, but in tearing apart the integrity of the characters. Moreover, some meek symbolism, like the mystical eclipse of the full moon acting as a trigger for 'the unveiling', is equally unnecessary, if harmless.
Yet, it's fairly easy to transcend these inadequacies thanks to the sound build up of the atmosphere, the well rounded characters, and the depth the movie achieves in its existential commentary. Not sure I would label this a comedy, but it sure is a dinner date gone haywire, with some beautiful Italian flair to go with the ever so doubtful bio wine.