Confusions of an Unmarried Couple

3.5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: March 30, 2008
Taking a walk down Cheat Street

Couples of all persuasions—married, engaged or just kicking the tires—would be well advised to sit down together and venture into the world of Dan (Brett Butler, who also wrote the script and co-directed with brother Jason) and Lisa (Naomi Johnson).

The sex-driven duo (happily shooting their steamy encounters—filling three feature-length tapes), shacked up together, enjoying a steady diet of pot and beer and the added treat of moving on up to a queen-size bed, seem to have the world at their feet. Then, after months of pestering from his music-loving partner (replete with a treble clef tattoo!), Dan unexpectedly pops both the question and an engagement ring, forcing Lisa to an instant yes. Be careful what you nag for.

But before you can say “muff diver,” the groom-to-be walks in on his intended in the heady throes of cunnilingus with an old girlfriend on the hitherto heteros-only mattress. Dan immediately exiles himself to the lonely land of canned hops and jerk-off diary. Now, instead of copulations of the most adventurous kind, the video cam serves as the confessional booth for both parties even as they meet one last time to see if they can recapture their bliss of caustic arguing and to-cum-for makeup sex.

With just two characters, it’s a challenge to keep the frequently uneasy (just guessing, of course) viewers’ interest and attention. Writer Butler solves much of that dilemma by employing lists: Dan’s surprise visit to his former home is fuelled by reclaiming a number of items from a bottle of Wild Turkey to Sex Tape No.3; both Lisa and Dan share their innermost thoughts exclusively to the unseen lens where each confession’s title (including “fidelity,” “maturity,” “threesome,” and “forgiveness”) establishes the subject matter with the flick of a felt pen.

Another useful tool is Ryan Noel’s score—particularly the ostinato, sleuth-like jazz delivered by vibes, bass and drums—which gives the ear a welcome change from the spats and revelations of the struggling pair.

And so the battle rages, giving ample opportunity to explore issues of gender superiority, guilt, silent lust vs. “meaningless sex,” and trust. The lines range from real gems (Lisa, on the notion of Dan’s incessant horniness, “I’d rather plead with him to stop than beg for a fuck—I’ve got my ‘40s for that”) to cheap-laugh, out-of-character stinkers (in the discussion around whether or not same-sex cheating is better or worse than boy-girl, working in the setup “bluff”; payoff “a pair of queens” should have been cut after the read-through—cross-reference below).

From an acting point of view, Johnson has the edge. Her Lisa is packed with emotion and offers a range of moods and nuance that should attract the attention of audiences and producers alike. Brett shamelessly reveals soul, savvy and smarts, but occasionally loses the spontaneity that his own speeches deserve and slips into a stilted lecture mode that dulls the snap, crackle pop of the verbal intercourse.

Don’t be shy; take the plunge into the troubled waters of Dan and Lisa: like them, you’ll only have to accept the parts that work for you. JWR

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Directors/Producers - Jason Butler, Brett Butler
Writer - Brett Butler
Editor - Jason Butler
Original Music - Ryan Noel
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