REVIEW: Trouble Will Find Us (MANIFF 2021)
Films about romantic relationships can be challenging to get right. There are several factors for this – dialogue and the emotional stakes, for example, leaps to the forefront. But the obvious one comes down to believability. Characters have to feel authentic and genuine. And no matter where the story charts its course, the essence, but most importantly, their journey is worthwhile. Alexander Milo Bischof’s Trouble Will Find Us is the latest film to step into the proverbial hot seat.
With a title so pervasive and on the nose, you can probably sense the direction where the film is heading. But it’s worth pointing out that this is not Marriage Story or Malcolm & Marie (but then again, not every film needs to be). By contrast, Trouble Will Find Us is much more low-key and subtle in its approach, hinging its emotional weight, dialogue and performances as a timeline series of snapshot moments. Trouble Will Find Us doesn’t necessarily re-invent the wheel but engages the uniqueness of its modern-love story in an entertaining and inventive way.
Meet Tess (Ruth Kearney) and Henry (Dylan Edwards), a young couple at a crossroads moment in their relationship. The chasm is notable within its opening frame, as they stare into the abyss of the horizon with only the shifting movements of the sea defining its emotions. And instead of intimacy which its 4×3 aspect ratio naturally evokes, it has the opposite effect, going as far as to heighten the claustrophobic nature of their relationship.
The inventiveness (as previously mentioned) comes from how it navigates its story. Split into three distinctive chapters, its traditionally linear escapade tracks the couple from the first day they met – a chance meeting at an art exhibition – until the inevitable breaking point that pushes them on the verge of an emotional collapse.
The best way to imagine the film is to envision it as that popular app ‘1 Second Everyday’ – personal moments of life captured but given an extended running time. The 4×3 aspect ratio can be another inference to social media – purpose-built for how an app-savvy generation scrolls through their timeline to witness bitesize chunks of memories. Bischof frames this as a documentary of some sorts, experimental, abstract and unfiltered with a hint of cinema verité thrown into the mix. It wilfully knows how much the camera loves to keep its distance. It knows how to frames its subjects (such as the scene where Henry and Tess say goodbye to their friends, but the camera lingers on their shoes instead of their faces). Yet, it finds ways to acknowledge that intimacy when it gets up close and personal with the couple.
And it propels its conversations into relatable spaces where it’s neither sexualised nor glamorised. Bischof captures the mundane realities of their co-dependant lives, such as cooking (and how much Henry can’t cook), brushing teeth, watching TV (and Henry not understanding why Tess would watch a dreary show), to the discovery of who snores in their sleep! It’s one of those relatable moments where the story grounds itself, opening the door for some witty dialogue and exchanges. And honestly, it’s not often when you hear Spud’s faecal accident from Trainspotting being used in a conversation about spilt coffee and stained bedsheets!
There are, of course, limitations with that formula. The lack of depth to the scenes are notable. Presented without further context or details, Trouble Will Find Us is a constant sensation of ‘jumping into’ conversations, unaware of how much time has passed between each scene or how long the couple have been together. There’s a definite lack of conclusion, leaving its audience to ambiguously wonder its possible outcome. But certainly, its drawback does come from its predictability. But where it works is how much it’s committed to its stylised concept, building an ample picture of events. It’s helped further by its enjoyable and snappy pacing that makes its 90-minute runtime easily digestible.
Its relevancy comes from how the couple interact. Bischof builds into the ‘opposites attract’ mantra. It’s notable early on where they’re both dancing. It’s silly in its fun and blissfulness as they let off some steam, but it’s not “together”. They’re independently synced in their own world, occasionally finding some slight overlapping with movements. But the film is quick to highlight their conflicting differences. She’s a lawyer, and he’s an artist. She’s in a well-secured job, rising to the top of her profession, and he’s a freelancer, living from paycheque to paycheque based on commissions. She’s very opinionated, not afraid of being blunt (even openly admitting she didn’t like his artwork), and he’s a little more sensitive, where creativity is a spark and not something that can be traditionally valued.
As basic as its foundation is, the clash fits their profile and lifestyle, yet Bischof takes extra care not to judge them or take a positional side. But what is striking is how it highlights how they’re unwilling to compromise on their beliefs, even when circumstances rapidly change. When the conversations switches, it moves between a family death, financial burdens, a ‘Fatima in IT’ moment (in which she suggests he should change) and even children, they’re all ingredients added to the pressure cooker. Not even Henry’s father escapes the melting pot, believing his son should get a ‘muse’ for his creative aspirations instead of someone who will remind him of the “terms and conditions of their tenancy agreement”.
But despite its simplicity, the film’s strength comes from the invested performances of Kearney and Edwards. As an on-screen couple, they run the emotional gauntlet, transitioning between the appealing and loveable highs and self-destructive lows of their relationship, and their natural chemistry feeds into that believable dynamic. And if there is success to be had with this, then they make the journey worthwhile.