Making his feature film debut, writer/director Joey Klein tackles a difficult relationship drama where severe grief and illness are at odds with each other.
Nickie (Tom Cullen), a British man living in the United States (Toronto doubling for an unspecified location) lives a difficult and ill-tempered life, having left his home country after an event that changed his family forever. Detached from the world around him, he encounters another lost soul, Emily (Tatiana Maslany), who fascinates Nickie and the two soon strike up an intimate relationship. Things soon become difficult as Emily reveals she suffers from bipolar disorder, which makes her manic and unstable at times, making it near impossible for her to live a normal life. The anger that seethes from Nickie and the volatile nature of Emily make their connection one marked by uncertainty, but the bond they share becomes one linked by compassion and kinship.
The story of The Other Half explores just how these unhinged personalities find solace and care in each other’s lives, and its through this element that Klein handles the subject matter with value and kindness. Compared to other films dealing with mental health issues like Silver Linings Playbook, where things are characterized in a more zany and eccentric manner, the portrayal of Nickie and Emily by Cullen and Maslany feel genuinely real, making their moments of downfall all the more tragic.
Maslany in particular deserves special recognition, as depicting bipolar disorder can be tough, but once again the Orphan Black actress shows why she’s one of the best Canadian actors working today. Cullen’s performance is equally as strong, though of a more intimately depicted way with equal parts heart and heartlessness.
For a debut feature, The Other Half is surprisingly effective, and it would seem that Klein has a bright future in filmmaking. He makes a number of interesting decisions in terms of composing each sequence, and allows for the script to get as much attention as the visual component. It’s certainly a difficult film to sit through, especially when Klein doesn’t make things so clear how the relationship between these two people will ultimately end, but there’s still enough strength and quality to be found to make it worth seeing.