‘In a Relationship’ Film Review: Emma Roberts and Michael Angarano Try to Liven Up Underwritten Characters

Tribeca 2018: Familiar romantic indie will resonate most with those who relate

Last Updated: November 7, 2018 @ 9:18 AM

You know that couple who met in a bar and discovered they both loved [Werner Herzog/Father John Misty/trips to Cabo/the color blue] so they began dating, and even after they realized they had nothing else in common it was easier to stay together than break up?

We’ve all been around them. But do you want to watch their movie? Maybe, if you’ve also been them, or are willing to admit you’re still in a relationship that fits the above description.

Everyone else, though, may find their patience running thin with Hallie (Emma Roberts) and Owen (Michael Angarano), the two young, bland Los Angelenos at the center of Sam Boyd’s romantic indie “In a Relationship.”

They’re both about 25, so it’s hard to understand why Hallie is pushing insistently to move in together. In fact, it’s a lot easier to see why Owen’s resisting. They fight all the time and don’t seem to share anything other than their own relationship. Since they’re not nice to each other, we’re never given the chance to invest in them together. But because they don’t have much else going on, it’s also tough to care about them individually.

More interesting are Hallie’s cousin Willa (Dree Hemingway, “Starlet”) and Owen’s best friend Matt (Patrick Gibson, “The OA”). Willa is, we’re repeatedly told, a blonde goddess who is far too good for the slightly goofy, inexperienced Matt. But he adores her, and she’s intrigued at being treated like a human rather than a conquest for a change. Because each is aiming for more than they’ve had before, the stakes are just a little bit higher, giving their storyline a tender undercurrent.

Boyd has put together a solid team for his feature debut, in which a range of well-chosen locations are shot with crisp precision by Martim Vian.

All the actors are pros, and every character is likely to remind you of someone you’ve vaguely known. Of the four, though, Matt feels the most real. Like the others, he has one primary trait (insecurity, in his case), but Gibson fleshes him out enough to engage us in his feelings.

While Boyd expanded the movie from a short film, he has left some important elements out of his script. It would have helped if we knew the characters’ back stories, or family histories, or even just more about their inner lives. We’re meant to understand exactly who Willa and Matt are when she orders a vodka water, and he requests “the lightest beer you have.”

But if Boyd’s perspective is limited, his focus is sharp. Most of all, the movie represents that post-collegiate period in which you’re still Figuring Stuff Out. It’s about trying to balance out-sized bills and crappy jobs with random parties and awkward dates, wondering if it’s better to be a little lonely with someone else, or hidden inside your apartment drinking your self-pity away.

Actually, that description alone should be enough to help you decide if this one’s worth the 90-minute commitment. For some, the sense of familiarity will feel comfortable and easy. Others will know instantly that they’re looking for more.

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