Review: ‘Open,’ starring Essence Atkins, Keith Robinson, Matt Cedeno and Jasmine Guy

March 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Keith Robinson and Essence Atkins in “Open” (Photo courtesy of BET)

“Open”

Directed by Cas Sigers-Beedles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the marital drama “Open” has a predominantly African American cast (with some white people and a few Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife, who’ve been married to each other for about 10 years, experience problems in their “open marriage” agreement.

Culture Audience: “Open” will appeal primarily to people who like Lifetime-type movies about love and marriage issues.

Matt Cedeno and Essence Atkins in “Open” (Photo courtesy of BET)

Stepping into a TV-movie space that’s usually occupied by Lifetime original movies, the BET original movie “Open” takes a look at what happens when a couple’s “open marriage” agreement goes wrong. Lifetime has done several movies about this topic already, but always with white people as the married couple. “Open” is BET’s presentation of this issue from an African American perspective. “Open” writer/director Cas Sigers-Beedles is African American too.

Even though “Open” is from BET, the pacing, tone and plot of the movie are very much in the mold of a Lifetime TV movie. In the beginning of the film, which takes place in Los Angeles, married couple Wren (which is her nickname; her real name is Karenna) and Cameron (Keith Robinson) seem to have a blissful relationship. Wren is the owner of a small bakery/pastry shop called Sweet Bites Bistro. Cameron is a successful architect. They’re both in the early 40s age range, and they’re about to celebrate their 10th anniversary as a married couple with a big party in Los Angeles, followed by a romantic trip to Belize.

While at work, Wren gets a call from Cameron, who tells her that he recently landed a major client. She enthusiastically congratulates him and they exchange some lovey-dovey banter. When Cameron gets off the phone, viewers see that he’s with another woman, who’s clad in lingerie. He tells her firmly, “You know the rules. After tonight, I can’t see you any more.”

What’s going on here? As it’s eventually revealed in the movie, Wren and Cameron have an open marriage. And so does one of Wren’s employees, Noel (played by Nisey Woods), a white woman who is Wren’s closest confidante. They candidly discuss their marriages and other things about their lives with each other.

Later in the story, it’s revealed that Wren got the idea to try an open marriage from Noel, who’s told Wren that the arrangement has done wonders for her own marriage to her husband Trevor. However, Noel repeatedly warns Wren that open marriages work if the couples stick by the rules that they agree on and are honest about their other sex partners. As Noel tells Wren, “You can’t call it real love unless it’s been tested.”

And the marriage of Wren and Cameron will definitely be tested. The next thing we see is Wren at a gallery opening for a photo exhibit of urban life. She’s at the gallery because she was invited by the exhibit’s hunky photographer Mars (played by Matt Cedeno), who is visiting from out of town. Mars and Wren have a history together: They dated when they were in high school, and she lost her virginity to him.

Through conversations shown in the film, viewers find out that Mars is the restless “bad boy” type, and he and Wren eventually drifted apart. But it should come as no surprise that when Mars and Wren see each other again, they still have some romantic sparks between them. Mars knows that Wren is married, and he flirts heavily with her. Wren plays coy until she tells Mars that she’s not as straight-laced as when they knew each other as teenagers. And then she reveals to him that she and her husband have been in an open marriage for about three years. Of course, Mars is thrilled to hear this news.

Meanwhile, it soon becomes clear that not everyone in Wren’s life knows about her open marriage, but that secret will eventually be revealed to some people. Her meddlesome mother Betty (played by Jasmine Guy) has long been divorced from Wren’s father. The divorce, which was caused by the ex-husband’s infidelity, has left deep emotional scars on Wren and Betty. Wren tells people such as Noel and Cameron that she doesn’t want to end up like her mother: bitter and mistrustful when it comes to marriage. It’s one of the reasons why Wren was the one who suggested to Cameron that they try an open marriage, since Wren believes that monogamy isn’t very realistic for most people.

Wren is Betty’s only child, so Betty is constantly pressuring Wren to become a mother too. Wren and Cameron have actually been trying to start a family for a while (Wren is taking IVF treatments), but so far have been unsuccessful. It’s hinted in the movie that their inability to conceive is another reason why their marriage hits a rough patch.

Cameron and Wren’s open marriage is also kept a secret from his younger brother Washington (played by Jared Wofford), who’s recently gotten married to romance-obsessed Courtney (played by Marquita Goings). Courtney is the type of wife who expects her husband to always say and do romantic things, or else she panics and thinks that something is wrong in their relationship.

Wren and Courtney are in the same women’s book club together. It’s the type of book club that reads self-help books about relationships. Courtney, who obviously admires Wren and Cameron’s relationship, asks Wren during a book-club meeting for marriage advice. Wren says, “You have to compromise and adapt.”

Meanwhile, Wren and Mars continue to meet up. Their flirtations turn into a steamy private photo session, then inevitable kissing, and then a full-blown affair, which Wren keeps a secret from Cameron. As she continues to see Mars on the side, Wren gets increasingly suspicious and jealous of Cameron’s relationship with his high-ranking boss Zoey (played by Ernestine Johnson Morrison), who has the kind of “boss lady” power that Wren secretly envies.

Wren’s insecurity also comes from a place of guilt, since cheaters often accuse their partners of cheating too. Cameron denies that anything is going on between him and Zoey, but Wren keeps pushing the issue, and it leads to arguments between the couple.

During her hot’n’heavy affair with Mars, Wren gets careless. She and Mars are seen canoodling together in public by someone who knows Wren and gets very upset about what was witnessed, and it has a domino effect. And that woman who slept with Cameron in the beginning of the story? She’s not quite done with Cameron, and there’s a possibility that she could ruin his marriage.

And sometime during all of this drama, Wren and Cameron attend their first swingers’ party. (There’s no nudity in the movie, and any sex scenes are very tame.) When they come home from the party, Wren and Cameron decide that a swingers’ party isn’t their thing, but they want to continue to have an open marriage. The problem is that Wren has broken one of the cardinal rules of their open marriage: Don’t lie to each other about their outside flings.

Cameron and Wren actually have six rules about their open marriage, which Cameron lists during a major blowup that happens later. And Wren has broken almost all of the rules, including the rules to only have sex with strangers; no intimate dates in public; and keep any sexual encounter with an outside partner a one-time thing with that person. The only rule that Wren didn’t break is to be honest with an outside partner about her marital status.

Just like a Lifetime movie, “Open” is ultimately a cautionary and predictable tale about the perils of married or committed couples who agree to have sex or date other people while staying in their relationship. Time and time again, these stories usually have someone in the relationship breaking the rules, intentionally or unintentionally, and a decision has to be made about what will happen to the relationship.

“Open” breaks no new ground, and the acting is satisfactory for this type of very formulaic movie, although “A Different World” former co-star Guy injects some sassy humor into her role as Wren’s jaded but protective mother. Atkins and Robinson have an easy chemistry together, but maybe that’s because they played boyfriend and girlfriend in the 2000s sitcom “Half & Half.”

And although viewers can easily see that Mars isn’t the type of guy who would be a realistic long-term partner for Wren (considering that he lives far from Los Angeles, and he and travels frequently around the world), Cedeno brings a lot of convincing sexual heat to the role. He makes it entirely believable that Wren would want to escape some of the monotony in her marriage into the arms of her first love, especially if he’s sexy and physically attractive.

In terms of production values, the movie has a very low-budget quality to it. The sound mixing is almost amateurish, like a student film, because the echoes in the room can often be heard in a scene. Another odd distraction is that several scenes have over-filtering of the light on Atkins, who is one of the producers of the film.

The different lighting for her is very obvious in scenes where the camera switches back and forth between Atkins and a co-star who are in the same room. Atkins has that filtered glow, while her co-star doesn’t. It leads one to believe that since Atkins was a producer of the movie, she was the one who wanted to get this special lighting. It actually isn’t a good look, because the uneven lighting lowers the quality of the film.

Even though “Open” has a predominantly African American cast, the movie doesn’t have much in common with Tyler Perry-directed movie dramas, which usually have very over-the-top plot twists. “Open” is much more realistic than a Tyler Perry movie. A Tyler Perry drama also has at least one African American man in the movie who’s an abusive character, while there are no abusive men in “Open.”

Cameron isn’t perfect (no one is), but he’s actually a good guy who tries to be an understanding and honest husband. Wren is the one in the relationship who’s dishonest, hypocritical and disrespectful of her marriage and the rules she and Cameron agreed to have. People will have to see the film to find out how Wren and Cameron deal with these flaws and how it ultimately affects their marriage.

“Open” is certainly not a horrible movie. It’s just not a very compelling one, even for this genre of female-oriented relationship drama. “Open” starts off kind of dull and slow, but the melodrama definitely picks up in the last third of the film. For a lot of people, these kinds of TV movies are like the “comfort junk food” of entertainment. These movies don’t try to be anything else, and so that’s what you should expect.

BET and BET Her premiered “Open” on March 14, 2020.