Depicting real mental illness can always be a tricky thing in the movies. Some filmmakers and actors feel so grandiose in their emotional storytelling that it can come off as unreal or entirely cartoonish. The writers and movie makers that seem to nail the true feeling of mental and emotional distress have more of a realistic approach to it, most likely having dealt with it in the past. I have no idea what writer and director Joey Klein’s background is but his film The Other Half gets everything stunningly right and his leads, Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen, embody their character’s issues with a very knowing style.
The film is about Nickie, played by Cullen, a British immigrant to Canada who seemed to be trying to escape something from his past there. He receives phone calls regularly from an obviously grieving mother and a completely despondent father wanting him to come home but Nickie is determined to live his life in isolation. His world is changed when he meets Emily (Maslany), a wild child free spirit who seems to challenge his introverted nature and bring him out of his shell. Unfortunately, Emily is on the extreme end of the bi-polar disorder and has severe moments of manic outbursts that cause Nickie to doubt their future together at first, and he is also being pushed away by her protective father (Henry Czerny). Nickie has to steel himself to care for the girl he’s growing to love and put to bed his own issues in the process.
First and foremost, the acting truly rules this film. Tatiana Maslany’s breakdown scenes fill you with sorrow that a bright point such as Emily can tumble down into such a pit of darkness and despair, and make you question if anything will ever work out for her or Nickie. There’s also the uncomfortableness watching it happen as it seems to come from such a deep place of knowledge and experience. We all have our sources of human darkness and Maslany channels this well, showing off why she was finally recognized with an Emmy for Orphan Black. The performance wouldn’t have the same resonance though if it weren’t for Tom Cullen, a riptide of emotion that refuses to bubble to the surface. Even in the awkward first meeting between Nickie and Emily’s father, there is a restraint that you feel will boil over that doesn’t, all due to Cullen’s withdrawn portrayal.
Joey Klein, in his first feature, shows off a knowledge obtained from watching others do it from the other side of the camera, as he was an actor first. Soft focuses and intentionally blurred shots give you just the right mindset to take this gently fractured love story in. It’s an understatement to say that you root for the union of Nickie and Emily but the story gives you no clear indication if this couple is heading to happiness or ruin. What is clear is that both have so much riding on each other that if one was to let it fail both of them would be beyond saving. I feel that The Other Half is a story that many could relate to as we’re all dealing with some state of emotional hardship no matter who you are. This film is just a film about two people trying to make sense of human closeness through all the fog in the mind. 4/5