Tom Cullen's directorial debut never feels like a fully formed work but offers moments of neat introspection
Tom Cullen, best known for his work as an actor in excellent romantic drama Weekend, has turned his hand to writing and directing with Pink Wall, a miniature portrait of a couple in crisis. It’s not so different to acclaimed musical The Last Five Years, another work about a lopsided relationship that’s also told out of chronological order – except there are no musical numbers here, just talking, shouting, and sobbing as the story plays out over six years and across six scenes, Cullen cutting between them to emphasise the highs and lows.
The couple in question are Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) and Leon (Jay Duplass), two Americans living in the UK who we first meet attending a cosy pub lunch with her family. An affable chat quickly turns into the meal from hell after Jenna’s brother makes a crass joke at Leon’s expense, and – as they stand outside shouting at each other – we soon realise this pair are far from perfect. The rest of Cullen’s film takes in a country walk, a chat on a park bench, nights in at their flat, and presents us with title cards like “Year One” or “Year Four” to let us know whereabouts we are in this union’s timeline. We see their first meeting, where wannabe photographer Leon is DJing, and the moment they seem to fall for one another. Later, there’s a dinner party, held for Jenna’s birthday, that is painful to watch; a passive-aggressive indictment of a millennial “good time” that divulges into a series of clashing ideals and self-righteous declarations. We sit and wonder: Do these people even like each other?
Before long we realise what’s wrong: Jenna, a successful TV producer, has outgrown her partner, whose own creative dreams have been put on the back burner; and yet it was he who helped her on the path to achieving success by identifying and nurturing her skills. The Last Five Years’ own story about a successful writer feeling emotionally unsupported by his creatively unfulfilled wife begins to feel like an even more apt – albeit gender-swapped – comparison when Jenna tells Leon, “I don’t want to make myself small so you don’t feel insecure,” echoing a similar line from that musical (“I will not lose because you can’t win.”)
The film is laced with moments where we’re left to wonder what the characters are thinking or feeling based on subtle facial expressions alone; glances and looks that leave us to fill in the gaps. By design, I think, Cullen isn’t too concerned with getting us to like Jenna and Leon – a bit irritating and annoyingly quirky – as people or as a couple. Instead his push for a warts and all-like realism serves as both a strength and a weakness, in that the romance and the interactions feel lifelike and well-observed, yet a lack of sympathy for their behaviour leaves us mostly indifferent to their plight.
Even at 81 minutes Pink Wall begins to drag, though, because we’re only dealt snapshots and there isn’t much to get your teeth into. Some of the vignettes, meanwhile, like a pasta dinner gone wrong, feel a bit contrived. What Cullen does do well is capture the push and pull of modern relationships; the ways in which a couple can move so quickly between feelings of hatred and love, almost within the same breath. The romantic observations are highly relatable, but the film – sketch-like – lacks the necessary emotional weight to make us properly care.
By: Tom BarnardWhere to watch