Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams

September 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben Platt and Julianne Moore in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

Culture Representation: Taking place in Bethesda, Maryland, the musical film “Dear Evan Hansen” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Due to a misunderstanding over a typed letter, a lonely teenager in his last year of high school pretends that he was the secret best friend of a fellow student who committed suicide. 

Culture Audience: “Dear Evan Hansen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Tony-winning musical on which this movie is based, but the movie fails to capture the spirit of the stage version.

Danny Pino, Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

On paper, the movie musical “Dear Evan Hansen” seems like it would be guaranteed to have the same appeal as the Tony-winning musical on which it’s based. However, the movie’s talented cast can’t redeem this misguided mush that clumsily handles serious issues such as mental illness and suicide. Sometimes, it isn’t enough to have members of a Broadway musical’s Tony-winning team reprise the same roles for the movie. The “Dear Evan Hansen” movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Several of the principal team members who won Tony Awards for the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical came on board for the movie version of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Ben Platt returns in his starring role as Evan Hansen. Steven Levenson wrote the musical’s book and the movie’s screenplay. Marc Platt (Ben Platt’s father) is a producer. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the musical score and songs. The movie version has most of the same songs from the stage musical, except for the original songs “A Little Closer” and “The Anonymous Ones,” which were both written for the movie.

Stephen Chbosky, who earned rave reviews for writing and directing his 2012 movie adaptation of his novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” misses the mark in directing “Dear Evan Hansen,” another story about a teenage boy who’s struggling with mental illness. (Chobsky was not involved in the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical, whose original Broadway production was directed by Michael Greif.) In “Dear Evan Hansen,” Evan Hansen is a socially awkward loner, who is in therapy for anxiety and depression. In the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie, these issues are treated like “disease of the week” plot points. The movie also callously fails, until the last few scenes, to have much regard for the inner life of the person who committed suicide in the story, because the movie is all about Evan Hansen’s angst over keeping secrets about lies that Evan Hansen created.

Unfortunately, the movie missed some opportunities to have more exploration and sensitivity about what led to the suicide that becomes the catalyst for the entire story. Instead, the emphasis is on trying to make viewers feel sorry for a teenager who lies to people about being the suicide victim’s best friend. The movie doesn’t make him an anti-hero but someone who should be admired for coping with his mental health issues while under the stress of concocting elaborate lies.

In the beginning of “Dear Evan Hansen” (which takes place in Bethesda, Maryland), Evan is shown doing a therapy exercise required by his psychiatrist Dr. Sherman: writing a diary-like letter to himself. It’s an assignment that Evan has to do on a regular basis in order to ease some of his anxiety and hopefully boost his confidence. Dr. Sherman is never seen or heard in the movie, which is one of the reasons why parts of this movie look very phony and off-kilter. The self-addressed letter writing becomes the reason why Evan becomes entangled in a misunderstanding and a complicated deception that end up getting out of control.

Evan, who is in his last year at the fictional Westview High School, is the only child of divorcée Heidi Hansen (played by Julianne Moore), a nurse who works the night shift at a local hospital. Evan’s father abandoned Evan and Heidi when Evan was very young and has not been in their lives since then. More recently, Evan has been recovering from a broken left arm, which is in a cast, because he fell out of a tree.

The early scenes of Evan at high school embody a lot stereotypes of teenagers who are social pariahs. He’s ignored in the hallways and in classrooms. No one wants to have lunch with him in the cafeteria. Evan is afraid to talk to people, and when he does, he often stutters and stammers. And people usually don’t talk to him either, because he keeps mostly to himself.

There’s no indication of what type of academic student Evan is because the movie mostly cares about the web of lies that Evan ends up spinning. At home, Evan’s mother Heidi constantly reminds him to write the self-affirming letters, because she doesn’t want him to “go back to how it was last year,” which implies that Evan had some kind of breakdown back then.

As is typical for a story about a male nerd in high school, he has a crush on a girl whom he thinks is out of his league, and he’s too shy to even talk to her. Evan’s crush is Zoe Murphy (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who is two years younger than he is. Zoe, who is artistic and introverted, plays guitar in the school’s marching band.

Evan’s only “friend” at school is someone who often acts embarrassed to be around Evan. His name is Jared Kalvani (played by Nik Dodani), who makes a lot of cruel remarks to Evan, but Jared think he’s being witty and funny when he says these awful things to Evan. For example, Jared tells Evan that they are “not real friends,” because Jared feels obligated to hang out with Evan only because their mothers are friends. Jared also calls Evan a “total disaster” when it comes to dating. Jared tells Evan that he won’t sign Evan’s arm cast because Jared doesn’t want people to think that he and Evan are friends.

It’s the beginning of the school year, and Jared (who is openly gay) brags to Evan that he spent his summer vacation at a camp where he gained muscle weight and hooked up with a Brazilian hunk who’s a model. Jared is a motormouth who seems like the type to exaggerate things about himself in order to boost his own ego. Viewers will get the impression that Jared hangs out with Evan so Jared can feel socially superior to Evan.

One day in the school hallway, Evan has a run-in with a school bully named Connor Murphy (played by Colton Ryan), who is in Evan’s graduating class. Connor also happens to be Zoe’s older brother. Connor sees Evan looking at Connor while Evan gives a small nervous laugh. Connor’s temper explodes and he yells at Evan for laughing at him.

Zoe is among the people who saw this outburst, so shortly afterward, she approaches Evan and says she’s sorry for the way that Connor was so rude to Evan. Zoe introduces herself, but bashful Evan is tongue-tied and almost having a panic attack. Evan stammers something that Zoe can’t understand and then he runs away from her.

One day, Evan is in the school library, where he has printed out another letter to himself. The letter reads: “Dear Evan Hansen: Turns out this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing year because why would it be? Oh, I know, because there’s Zoe, who I don’t even know and who doesn’t know me, but maybe if I talk to her, maybe things will be better. Or maybe nothing will be different at all. I wish everything was different. Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? Sincerely, your best and dearest friend. Me.”

Just as he is about to leave the library, Evan runs into Connor again. To Evan’s surprise, Connor is even-tempered and asks to signs Evan’s arm cast. After Connor signs it, he smirks and says, “Now we can pretend to be friends.” However, Connor sees the letter that Evan wrote to himself, Connor reads it, and he has another angry tantrum. Connor is upset about Evan’s letter, which Connor calls a “creepy letter” about Zoe. Connor is so incensed that he takes the letter from Evan.

A few days later, Evan finds out about something tragic that happened the night before: Connor committed suicide. Word quickly spreads throughout the school. Evan is called into the school principal’s office because two people want to talk to Evan: Connor’s mother Cynthia Murphy (played by Amy Adams) and Connor’s stepfather Larry Mora (played by Danny Pino), who helped raise Zoe since she was a 1-year-old and since Connor was 3.

Cynthia and Larry found Evan’s letter among Connor’s possessions and assumed that Connor wrote the letter. Larry and Cynthia are surprised by the letter because they didn’t think Connor had any friends. At first, Evan tries to tell these grieving parents that he didn’t know Connor and he wrote the letter to himself. But when Cynthia and Larry see Connor’s signature on Evan’s arm cast, Cynthia is convinced that Connor and Evan must’ve had a secret friendship.

Cynthia in particular seems desperate to want answers about Connor’s suicide. She’s trying to find anyone who was close to Connor to help her understand things that she didn’t know about Connor. It’s at this point in the story that you have to wonder why Cynthia would think that Connor would write a letter saying that he doesn’t know his own sister Zoe, but the movie wants viewers to think that Cynthia is so overcome with grief that she isn’t thinking logically.

The more Evan tries to explain that he was never Connor’s friend, the more upset Cynthia gets. She thinks that Connor had secret email addresses and fake social media accounts to hide his “friendship” with Evan. Cynthia also asks a lot of leading questions that make it easy for Evan to give answers that she wants to hear. And so, with Evan’s anxiety starting to kick in as he faces these parents who want answers, he makes up a huge lie in this meeting, by saying that he and Connor were secret best friends. (It’s not spoiler information, because it’s in the movie’s trailers.)

The rest of the movie shows how Evan’s lies get more elaborate and how he desperately tries to cover up these lies. First, he tells Jared his secret and convinces computer whiz Jared to create fake email messages to and from Connor, so that Evan can forward these messages to the Murphy family. It makes Jared a willing accomplice to this deceit, but the movie badly handles the consequences that Jared would realistically have to face if the secret is revealed.

Cynthia and Larry want to know more about Connor from Evan. And so, it isn’t long before Evan is invited over to the Murphy home for dinner. During this dinner, Evan finds out that Zoe despised Connor, whom she calls a “bad person.” She has nothing good to say about her dead brother, and it naturally upsets Larry and Cynthia every time they hear Zoe insult Connor.

Later, in a private conversation between Zoe and Evan, she expresses some skepticism that Evan was ever really Connor’s friend. Although she and Connor weren’t close, Zoe finds it hard to believe that Evan and Connor were friends because she never saw them hanging out together. The only time that she saw Evan and Connor interacting with each other was when Connor yelled at Evan in the school hallway. Despite these major doubts, Evan is able to convince Zoe that he and Connor just had a minor argument in that school hallway and that they were really friends.

“Dear Evan Hansen” ignores the larger questions of what kind of emotional support Connor was or was not getting at home. It’s revealed that he was shipped off to rehab on multiple occasions for his substance abuse problems. And it’s obvious that Cynthia doesn’t want to talk about Connor’s worst flaws, so her denial about his problems might have made things worse.

However, viewers are only left to guess what went on inside Connor’s home and what was inside his head to make him commit suicide. To put it bluntly: Evan’s mental health problems are given all the importance in the movie, while the suicide victim’s problems are mostly ignored. This discrepancy defeats the movie’s supposed intention to bring more understanding and compassion for people who have suicidal thoughts.

The movie also goes off on a brief and unnecessary tangent that Jared gleefully participates in Evan’s deception because Jared likes the idea of making people think that Connor and Evan were secret gay lovers. It’s an idea that falls by the wayside when Evan and Zoe become closer and eventually start dating each other. Evan and Zoe becoming romantically involved is not spoiler information either, because it’s shown in the movie’s trailers.

Zoe opens up to Evan about why she and Connor never got along with each other. Connor had a long and troubled history of being a violent bully. For example, when Connor was 7 years old, he threw a printer at a teacher. He was also cruel to Zoe on many occasions. And mental illness apparently runs in the family. Zoe and Connor’s biological father died when she was a 1-year-old. His cause of death will not surprise viewers when it’s eventually revealed in the story.

At school, a concerned student named Alana Beck (played by Amandla Stenberg), who didn’t know Connor, decides to form a support group called the Connor Project to help create student awareness for mental health. She asks for Evan’s help in launching this project, but he avoids going to the student meetings about the project. Alana finds it difficult to get anyone to attend these meetings because Connor was not well-liked, so she’s surprised and disappointed that Connor’s “best friend” doesn’t want to attend these meetings either.

And when Evan tells a lie that Connor was the one who rescued Evan after he fell out of the tree, Alana gets the idea to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to rebuild the defunct orchard where the tree is located. She wants to name it the Connor Murphy Memorial Orchard. Alana tries to enlist Evan’s help for this campaign too. And so, now Evan knows that this fundraising campaign was created as a direct result of his deceit. Can you say “financial fraud”?

Why is Alana going to all this trouble for Connor, someone she didn’t even know? It turns out that Alana has a personal reason for wanting to launch the Connor Project: Just like Evan, she’s on medication for anxiety and depression. Alana thinks that Connor also had a mental illness that could’ve been better treated if he felt that he had a support system at school. And therefore, Alana has a lot of empathy for anyone who is going through these struggles.

One of the reasons why the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie will turn off some viewers is that the movie tries to make Evan look sympathetic because he’s a social outcast, but he actually comes across as very selfish. Would he have continued lying to the Murphy family if he didn’t think it was a convenient way to get closer to Zoe? Probably not. Would he have kept up the charade of being sympathetic to Connor’s emotional problems if this fake sympathy hadn’t raised his social status at school? Probably not.

Evan also doesn’t seem to care to understand who Connor was as a human being until something happens in the story that forces Evan to look like he’s curious about what Connor’s interests were when Connor was alive. Throughout most of the movie, Alana is more inquisitive about Connor than Evan is. Of course, in real life, this discrepancy would have set off red flags very early on—not just with Connor’s family but also with teachers and students who would know best what the friendship cliques are at the school. It’s a reality that’s mostly ignored in this movie, which makes the students and teachers look extremely gullible in believing Evan’s lies, which aren’t even that clever.

And there’s an icky subtext that Evan is enjoying the attention and approval he’s getting for coming forward as Connor’s “best friend,” even though Evan is supposed to feel guilty about his lies. He does feel guilty, but mainly when he comes close to getting caught and other people get backlash that Evan didn’t expect. This backlash is rushed into the story as a way to force an inevitable plot development.

It’s possible that this movie could’ve been more convincing if it had been set in a time before the Internet and social media existed. However, no one ever asks Evan for more proof that he knew Connor as a best friend, such as things Connor would’ve told a best friend about himself. Everyone just accepts the superficial and vague email as “evidence” of the friendship.

Evan claims that his friendship with Connor was mostly online, by email. However, except for saying that Evan rescued him after the tree fall, Evan never provides the dates and times of when he and Evan supposedly hung out in person together. Viewers are supposed to believe that Evan thinks he can get away with this scam with his mother, who knows pretty much everything about him and is skeptical that he had a secret best friend. But somehow, Evan convinces her too. It’s a very flimsy part of the story.

The cast members capably handle the acting and song performances. However, the way the songs are placed in the movie don’t come off as well on screen as they would on stage. There’s a very cringeworthy fantasy sequence where Evan and Connor frolic, dance and sing in a carefree manner together, as if they were best friends. Ben Platt vacillates between portraying Evan as a pitiful wimp and a troubled opportunist. Dever does quite well in her scenes as Zoe, especially when she depicts Zoe’s conflicting love/hate emotions about Connor.

The songs from the stage musical that are in the movie are “Waving Through a Window,” “Good for You,” “Anybody Have a Map?,” “For Forever,” “Sincerely, Me,” “Requiem,” “If I Could Tell Her,” “Only Us.” “Words Fail,” “So Big, So Small” and the musical’s most well-known anthem “You Will Be Found.” The original songs “A Little Closer” (performed by Ryan) and “The Anonymous Ones” (performed by Stenberg, who co-wrote the music and lyrics) are serviceable but aren’t that outstanding. In addition, the soundtrack has Sam Smith doing a version of “You Will Be Found” and SZA performing “The Anonymous Ones.”

Mostly, the overall cloying tone of the movie is off-putting because it tries so hard to get viewers to root for Evan while he’s doing a lot of despicable lying about someone who committed suicide. Just because Evan has anxiety and depression shouldn’t be used as an excuse, which is what this movie does in a way that’s insulting to people with these mental health issues who would never stoop to the pathetic levels of what Evan does in this movie.

And it’s made even worse when it’s wrapped up in bombastic musical numbers that are intended to make people shed tears for Evan more than anyone else in the story—even though he’s not the one who lost a loved one to suicide and he’s causing more pain with his lies. This gross spectacle of a movie amplifies the deep-rooted flaws of the entire story, which might have been more acceptable to theater audiences who are more accustomed to seeing song-and-dance numbers about suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. “Dear Evan Hansen” has a lot of deluded worship of Evan, who’s got a bland abyss of a personality and who isn’t even creative with his lies.

Universal Pictures will release “Dear Evan Hansen” in U.S. cinemas on September 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Mark, Mary & Some Other People,’ starring Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield

June 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People”

Directed by Hannah Marks

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the Los Angeles area, the sex comedy “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A newlywed interracial couple decides to have an open marriage and has to deal with the jealousy and complications that ensue.

Culture Audience: “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” will appeal mainly to people who like watching self-conscious hipster comedies with characters who are foul-mouthed, shallow, and have an annoying tendency to act as if their lifestyles are better than anyone else’s.

Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an occasionally funny but very flawed swinger sex comedy made by and for people who want a movie where interracial spouses don’t talk about race, and Hispanics in Los Angeles are underrepresented and don’t speak. The movie is a clumsy mismatch of being very woke and very tone-deaf. The cast members who portray the swinger married couple in the film’s title are talented in their performances, and the movie does have some genuine charm here and there. (The final scene is a highlight.) But ultimately, it’s a movie that comes across as a little too smug for its own good. When it comes right down to it, this is a story about immature people who are so obsessed with appearing to be “open-minded” that they don’t see how self-absorbed they really are.

The word “woke” is often used as an insulting way for conservatives to describe people they think are too politically correct. But in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (which is set mainly in the Los Angeles area and takes place over a two-year period), even the “woke” characters call themselves “woke,” and they love to announce how politically progressive they are, every chance they get. But it’s the type of “wokeness” where people, who identify as progressive liberals and live in a racially diverse city, can’t be bothered to have any close friends who are black or Hispanic. To fill their “diverse friendship” quota, they might have one or two Asians in their social circle. That’s exactly what’s going on in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which was written and directed by Hannah Marks. The movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

In this movie, no one is guiltier of this self-congratulatory virtue signaling than Mary Lewis (played by Hayley Law), a motormouth in her mid-20s, who has to spew something politically correct every five minutes to prove how “enlightened” she is. She’s more about platitude posturing than being a well-rounded person. Mary also happens to be African American/bi-racial. Mary’s white mother is dead, and her black father is not mentioned at all.

Mary plays bass guitar in an all-female rock trio that keeps changing its name to things that Mary thinks will make the band sound like edgy feminists. It’s a running joke in the movie. One of the band’s names is Butter Cunt, which tells you right there what this movie thinks is funny. Because the band has no talent and can’t get any paying gigs, Mary works at various part-time menial jobs during the course of the movie. She does some speaking-voice work for places that need recordings for outgoing phone messages and PA system announcements. She also works as a housecleaner and a food server.

Mary’s husband is Mark Kenneth Sampson (played by Ben Rosenfield), also in his mid-20s, who is a “beta male” man-child that has become the stereotypical male lead character in mumblecore movies where everyone tries to outdo each other in looking like trendy, progressive hipsters. Mark is the type of person who identifies as a male feminist, which is basically a mumblecore movie way of depicting a man who is whiny, insecure, and so afraid of appearing sexist that he lets his domineering female partner treat him like crap. Mark works with his father in a vague “plastics manufacturing” job, but Mark’s father is never shown in the movie. Mark is never actually shown working at his “plastics manufacturing” job, but he is shown doing his other job as a dog walker. The movie doesn’t give any mention of Mark’s mother.

Mark is white, but the movie unrealistically shuts out any conversations that interracial couples would have about being in an interracial relationship. It’s one of the many flaws about “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which goes out of its way to be frank and detailed (often to the point of monotonous vulgarity) about many other aspects of sexual attraction, dating and marriage, except for race. It’s almost as if writer/director Marks and the other filmmakers thought that having an interracial couple as the main characters would be enough to fulfill their racial diversity checklist, and they want to pretend that racism and discussions about race simply don’t exist in a world that they decided to center on an interracial couple.

Mary will lecture people all day long about sexuality and gender politics, but her refusal to talk about race actually makes her look very phony and willfully ignorant. What kind of progressive liberal who’s supposed to care about social justice doesn’t want to talk about race? A hypocrite like Mary, who wants to live in a delusional bubble where she floats through life and doesn’t want to deal with a messy topic such as racism, even though she’s someone who has inevitably experienced racism. It should come as no surprise that Mary doesn’t have any black friends. (Sex partners who are treated like disposable sex toys don’t count as real friends.)

Women of color who are written this way in movies and TV shows are usually written by people who have no idea what it’s like to be a woman of color. And so, in this movie where one of the two main characters is black, “black culture” is avoided, ignored or sidelined. That’s probably why “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is the type of movie where the only African American people who have speaking roles in the movie (two women) are light-skinned, bi-racial people. There are less than a handful of Hispanic/Latino and dark-complexioned African Americans who get listed actor credits in the movie, and they’re really just extras: They don’t speak, they’re nameless characters in the movie’s many hookup scenes, and they’re on screen for less than 30 seconds each.

And it’s why this movie that tries so hard to look progressive and “woke”—as these swingers accumulate sexual conquests throughout Los Angeles County—is shamefully out-of-touch and backwards when it comes to representing what the population of Los Angeles County actually looks like. This movie is set in Los Angeles County, where 48.6% of the population identify as Hispanic/Latino, according the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 statistics. That number is expected to be higher when the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 statistics are announced.

But the filmmakers of “Mark, Mary & Some Other People”—who probably want the world to think they’re open-minded and progressive, based on how the movie’s characters talk—couldn’t be bothered to give any Hispanic/Latino actors any speaking lines in this movie that takes place in a county where nearly half the population is Hispanic/Latino. When people say that Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in American-made movies, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an example of this problem. Filmmakers who act like they’re progressive liberals need to do better in practicing what they preach.

It isn’t nitpicking to bring up the races/ethnicities of this movie’s cast members, because this entire movie is relentlessly “in your face” about the characters (especially the main characters) being progressive liberals. Therefore, it would be foolish and (quite frankly) irresponsible not to point out this movie’s hypocrisy, flaws and blind spots when it comes to the very same issues. People who live in certain “bubbles” probably won’t notice these flaws, because they’ll be too enamored with the self-approving hipster dialogue and titillation of seeing a swinger lifestyle depicted in a movie.

But “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” has a lot of flaws, such as showing how obvious it is that Mark and Mary are very mismatched from the start. For a movie like this to succeed in resonating with adults (this movie’s intended audience), audiences should be rooting for the couple to be happy and supportive of each other—not spending most of the movie cringing and hoping that the couple will break up, so the couple won’t keep wallowing in the misery of jealousy, power struggles and incompatibility that are all over this relationship.

Every movie about a couple with an “open relationship” ends up being about how they handle jealousy over other sex partners. The trick is in keeping people guessing on whether or not the couple will stay together. Unfortunately, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” telegraphs very early on how immature and messy Mark and Mary are in relationships, because Mark and Mary don’t even seem to like themselves very much. People with enough life experience will notice this low self-esteem right away, while people with less life experience might have more of a fairy-tale perspective of love and sex.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” doesn’t waste time with Mark and Mary’s “meet cute” moment because it’s the very first scene in the movie. Actually, it’s more like a “re-meet cute” moment, because it’s not the first time that they’ve met, although only one of them immediately remembers where they previously met. Mark and Mary, who both live in the city of Los Angeles, see each other at a convenience store. Mark shows an instant interest in her, while it takes Mary a little longer to show she’s attracted to him.

Mark and Mary met before when they attended the same college (which is unnamed in the movie), but Mary doesn’t remember Mark at first because he was a lot heavier in college than he is now. The movie doesn’t have flashbacks. Anything that happened before this story takes place is described in conversations.

At the convenience store, Mark notices that Mary is buying a pregnancy test, but she hastily tells him that the pregnancy test isn’t for her. (It’s an obvious lie.) After Mark checks out Mary’s rear end, he immediately asks her to go to a smoothie place with him on a date.

She says yes, and during their conversation at the smoothie place, Mary admits that the pregnancy test is for her. Mark expresses disappointment that Mary might already be in a committed relationship, but she assures him that she’s very single and available. She also tells him up front that she’s sexually interested in men and women, because she mentions a woman whom she describes as a former lover of hers.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” then takes an “only in a movie” turn when Mark tells Mary that it just so happens that he’s working with his father on an invention where pregnancy test results can come from saliva, not urine. It’s a very far-fetched part of the movie that will have viewers rolling their eyes in disbelief if they know anything about human biology. The movie wants us to believe that human salivary glands are somehow connected to the urethra, but it’s just an example of how dumb the filmmakers expect this movie’s audience to be.

Unfortunately, this salivary pregnancy test isn’t a random joke. It’s depicted as very real in this movie, and it becomes a big part of one of the movie’s pivotal scenes. A salivary pregnancy test is actually an unnecessary medical invention for this story, and it’s a bizarre twist to Mark’s “plastics manufacturing” job. Maybe the filmmakers were inspired by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, because there’s a concerted and almost laughable effort to make this salivary pregnancy test look convincing.

Mark is very nerdy and eager to impress. Mary is very manipulative and notices these personality traits in Mark, so immediately she figures she can have the upper hand in the relationship. When Mark asks her if he can have her phone number, she plays hard to get. Then, she tests Marks boundaries by telling him that he can have her phone number if he goes in the smoothie place’s public restroom with her while she takes the pregnancy test. He hesitates at first, but then obliges. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It should be noted that there’s no nudity in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which might be director Marks’ way of avoiding criticism of being exploitative in a movie filled with sex. However, no filmmaker should get extra praise for not having nudity in a sex-oriented movie. The movie should be judged on other things, such as the quality of directing, writing and acting.

When Mark and Mary go into the public restroom, he shows that he’s a gentleman by not looking at her while she urinates. It should come as no surprise to the audience when Mary finds out that she’s not pregnant, because having a pregnancy would get in the way of the swinger antics that this movie is using as a hook to get an audience. And it’s also not surprising that Mary—who manipulates a guy on a first date to go in a public restroom with her while she urinates for a pregnancy test, just so he can get her phone number—is someone who’s kind of nasty and very insecure.

It sets the tone for the relationship though: Mary is the one who comes up with the ideas that make Mark uncomfortable, and she makes him think he’s too uptight if doesn’t say yes to the ideas. She’s not bossy about it, but she’s very skilled at knowing people’s weaknesses and pushing those buttons. And she’s one of these people who gives off a conceited attitude of “I’m better than you because I’m so woke and trendy.”

It will ultimately turn a lot of viewers off from Mary, who is not a genuine free spirit who will let people be who they are. She won’t back off when Mark expresses discomfort with what she wants to do. She acts like she really won’t approve of someone and that person will make her unhappy unless they conform to what she wants at all times. And for someone like Mark, who’s obviously less experienced at dating than Mary is and desperate for someone to love him, he’s an easy target.

Case in point: When the movie fast-forwards about a year after Mark and Mary’s first date, Mark and Mary are getting married, and Mary has to be the “woke police,” even during their elopement wedding. Mark and Mary are at a cheap-looking wedding chapel in an unnamed city, where they are getting married. In another example of how this movie stumbles on realistic details, the only people at this wedding ceremony are Mark, Mary and the guy who’s marrying them. There are no other witnesses, even though witnesses other than the married couple and wedding officiator would be required to make the ceremony legal.

After Mark and Mary say their wedding vows, the wedding officiator says, “You may now kiss the bride.” Mary starts complaining and asks why that statement is male-centric because it gives the man the power to initiate the kiss. Mary begins ranting that no one ever says, “You many now kiss the groom” at wedding ceremonies where a man and woman get married. The wedding officiator says he doesn’t know the answers, but “You may now kiss the bride” is in his wedding script, and he’s just doing his job. But that answer doesn’t make Mary happy. (Almost nothing seems to make her happy, which is why Mary is so insufferable.)

Mary nags at the wedding officiator to change the wording to “You may now kiss the groom,” or else she won’t kiss Mark. Just to get this miserable shrew off of his back, the wedding officiator obliges, and probably feels relieved when these newlyweds leave so he doesn’t have to deal with her again. Mary and Mark spend their honeymoon at the Madonna Inn (a famously kitschy lodging in San Luis Obispo, California), where they take psychedelic mushrooms, with a typical mumblecore movie montage of them having drug-induced hallucinations during their honeymoon bliss.

If it was the filmmakers’ intention to make feminism look cool, the end result is just the opposite in this movie. Mary is supposed to embody modern feminism in this movie, but she’s just a pretentious brat who makes real feminists (and women in general) look bad. The only genuinely feminist thing about this movie is that it shows how women can be just as sexually active as men and shouldn’t have to make any apologies for it.

Mark isn’t going to win any Personality of the Year awards either. And he comes across as less-than-smart. After knowing that Mary is the type of person who thinks it’s unrealistic to be monogamous, and he married her anyway, he’s shocked and angry when she brings up the idea that they should have an open marriage. Did he honestly think she would suddenly want to be monogamous, just because they got married? A lot of people make this mistake of thinking a spouse will change fundamental things about their character, just because of a marriage certificate.

Mary pretentiously describes having an open relationship, or swinging, as “ethical non-monogamy.” Perhaps Mark and Mary can contact Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (who famously called their divorce a “conscious uncoupling”) to come up with some more self-important and pompous-sounding names for relationship situations that can turn messy. And it does get messy, as it always does when couples bring other lovers into their lives.

This is the type of conversation that Mary and Mark have when Mark gets angry at Mary for suggesting that they try an open marriage. As Mark sulks, Mary says, “You’re being immature.” Mark replies, “Well, you’re being a whore.” 

Mary wonders out loud if it was the wrong time to bring up the subject of open marriage. Mark tells Mary why he’s so offended that Mary wants to have sex with other people during their marriage: “It’s not about you bringing it up. It’s that you’re thinking about it at all.” Apparently, Mark was under the delusion that Mary would change her “monogamy doesn’t work for me” mindset after they got married.

Mary has, in fact, chosen the wrong time to ask Mark to be swingers, because it’s shortly before they go to a costume party, where a furious Mark decides to show Mary that he’s going to immediately find a new lover. He gets drunk, picks up a pretty blonde named Bunny (played by Kelly Berglund), and goes back to her place. The sexual encounter is awkward because Mark starts crying out of guilt and has some “performance issues.”

At the same party, a jealous Mary sees that Mark is trying to seduce Bunny, so she picks up a willing man, and spends the night with him. That encounter is never seen in the movie, but Mary is shown waking up the next morning in a messy van and getting dressed by herself. She’s crying, with a look of regret and misery on her face.

When Mark and Mary see each other again, they burst into tears and tell each other how sorry they are for what happened. (There will be more tears later in the story.) And they decide to set the rules of this new arrangement in their marriage.

After some hemming and hawing during rules negotiations, Mark and Mary agree on some fundamental rules: (1) No sex with an ex-lover; (2) No oral sex with anyone outside the marriage; (3) Always practice safe sex; and (4) If anyone in the marriage wants to stop having an open marriage, they will stop.

Mark tells Mary that this last rule is the most important one to him. He says of this “open marriage” arrangement: “This is a trial run. This is not forever thing. This is a ‘see if we like it’ thing. And if one of us doesn’t like it, we can go back to being us.”

Easier said than done. There are a few other rule negotiations that aren’t as firmly resolved. Mark and Mary make a tentative agreement to limit their sexual ecounters with other people to four sexual encounters per person, although Mary seems to want to leave it up to negotiation in the future to increase it to five.

Mark and Mary don’t agree on how much they should tell each other about their sexual encounters outside the marriage. Mark doesn’t want to hear details (such as the names of the lovers and what kind of sex they had), while Mary says she wouldn’t mind hearing details. They agree to disagree on that subject.

When the subject of threesomes comes up, Mary refuses to consider having a threesome with Mark, unless there’s gender equality with the third partner. Mary insists that if she and Mark have a threesome with another woman, then at another time, Mark and Mary need to have a threesome with another man. Mark is very reluctant to agree to a threesome involving another man, because he says he’s not comfortable with having any type of sex with a man.

However, Mary shames Mark into thinking that he’s homophobic if he doesn’t agree to these terms. He gives in to her demands and promises her that if they have a threesome, it will be with a man and a woman on separate occasions. In this particular negotiation, Mary isn’t thinking about what will make her and Mark happy. She’s only thinking about herself and getting her way.

This type of sexual manipulation is an example of how annoying and aggressive Mary can be with her “wokeness.” She doesn’t understand that just because someone doesn’t feel like ever having sexual relations with someone of the same gender, it doesn’t automatically make that person homophobic. Mary’s view on this matter is very narrow-minded and ignorant.

It’s simple courtesy and respect among sex partners: Don’t pressure people into doing something they don’t feel comfortable doing. Mary doesn’t have a grasp of that concept when she tries to make her husband feel “old-fashioned” and “uptight” if he doesn’t agree to what she wants.

Viewers won’t feel too sorry for Mary when her plan to show “old-fashioned” and “uptight” Mark how an open relationship works ends up backfiring on her when he starts to like polyamory a little too much for her comfort level. There are some very predictable things that happen regarding pregnancy and STD concerns. And there’s the inevitable jealousy and partner mistrust that a lot of swingers think they’ll be immune to, but it’s a lifestyle hazard of being a swinger that some people are more honest about than others.

One of the ways that the movie shows that Mark and Mary aren’t entirely comfortable with this open marriage arrangement is that they almost always get drunk and/or high to have sexual encounters with other people. Mary brought up the idea of open marriage to Mark only after her band’s lead singer/guitarist Lana (played by Odessa A’zion), who is by far the most obnoxious character in the movie, called Mary a “crusty married person.” Lana made this comment during a conversation where Mary confessed to a fear of being perceived as old and boring, now that she’s married.

The implication is that Mary is so caught up in projecting an image of being a progressive hipster that she lets a stupid comment like being called “a crusty married person” affect her self-esteem. Observant viewers will see that Mary doesn’t genuinely know if she’s ready for a swinger lifestyle. And this is where the movie does have some authenticity: A lot of people don’t have their lives figured out yet in their mid-20s, and this movie isn’t trying to pass judgment. Most of the characters in this movie are in their early-to-mid-20s, which goes a long way in explaining why many of them are so emotionally immature. 

The open marriage arrangement has its ups and downs in Mark and Mary’s relationship. As time goes on, it’s pretty clear that this couple’s biggest problem is how ineffectively they communicate. They argue about things that they obviously didn’t talk about before getting married. It’s one of many examples that this couple is a train wreck.

And in one of the screenplay’s big flaws, it never gives any indication that Mary was ever interested in meeting Mark’s father or anyone else in his family, even though Mark works with his father, who presumably lives nearby. Viewers will have to assume that Mary is just too self-absorbed to bother with meeting any of Mark’s loved ones. And based on her actions throughout this entire story, that assessment is accurate.

By contrast, Mark has met the two relatives of Mary who are shown in the movie: Mary’s younger sister Tori (played by Sofia Bryant), who is the drummer in Mary’s band, and Mary’s aunt Carol (played by Lea Thompson, in a cameo), who is depicted as a cynical, eccentric, queer woman with years of experiences as a swinger. Unlike Mary, Tori is down-to-earth and isn’t caught up in trying to look like she’s the queen of the progressive hipsters. Mark admits that Carol intimidates him, but he gets along with Tori just fine.

Tori and Mary briefly discuss their mother in one scene that gives no insight into how long their mother has been dead or her cause of death. It’s hinted that their mother (who was Carol’s sister) was also a progressive liberal, but Tori and Mary believe that their mother probably would have hated Mark and his unflattering moustache. Maybe this conversation is this movie’s way of saying that even Mary and Tori’s dead mother would know what a mistake it was for Mark and Mary to get married.

Mary and Tori are such a part of each other’s small social circle that Tori ends up dating one of Mark’s two best friends who are shown in the movie. Tori’s boyfriend is AJ (played by Matt Shively), who’s kind of a stereotypical meathead. AJ identifies as straight. Mark’s other best friend is Kyle (played by Nik Dodani), who’s kind of a stereotypical sassy queer guy. Kyle identifies as bisexual. And apparently, Mary’s social circle consists of her husband, her band and her husband’s two best friends.

And that’s why Mark and Mary use a dating app called Crush’d to meet potential new sex partners. They even take photos of each other for their online profile pics, in a photo session montage that’s supposed to make Mark and Mary look adorable. It comes across as trying too hard.

Mark suggests this photo session after he’s alarmed to see the original profile pic that Mary wanted for herself: Mary licking a large knife that appears to have blood on it. Mary thinks she looks hot and unique in that pose. Lindsay Lohan did that whole “look at me, I’m licking a large knife” gimmick back in 2007. Get over yourself.

For a comedy film about a married couple navigating a swinger lifestyle, it’s somewhat ironic that the funniest scenes in the movie aren’t even about Mark and Mary as a couple. Some of the best comedic scenes in the movie are with AJ and Kyle, as they have bickering banter when they’re by themselves. Sometimes AJ and Kyle act more like a married couple than Mark and Mary do.

Fair warning to anyone who hates hearing the derogatory slur that’s used the most against gay/queer men: There’s a scene where Kyle says that “f” word several times, and he says he’s allowed because he’s part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not the best scene between AJ and Kyle. And frankly, hearing that word used so gratiutously is not funny. There are other scenes with AJ and Kyle that are much better-written and should get big laughs. 

Someone who’s a lot less endearing is Lana, who identifies as queer and has the maturity of a 12-year-old. There’s a scene that’s a comedic dud where Lana gets into an argument with a next-door neighbor named Chris (played by Joe Lo Truglio), who’s upset because the band is rehearsing too loudly. It’s a valid complaint, especially since this band is terrible. Instead of being reasonable about it, Lana just shouts, “Fuck you!” It turns into a shouting match where Chris and Lana yell “Fuck you” back and forth for way too long. It’s tedious and lazy screenwriting.

The movie is divided into chapters introduced by cutesy and colorful graphics that look like something from a 1990s mumblecore movie that was influenced by the 1970s. It’s all so self-consciously twee. But it’s overly staged when so much of this movie is just gutter-mouthed and raunchy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be romantic and vulgar, but not many films can successfully achieve a balance of being both.

Gillian Jacobs has a cameo, as Mary’s gynecologist Dr. Jacobs, that’s also amusing, but a little one-note in the gag. The sex partners/dates whom Mark and Mary meet on the dating app aren’t given enough screen time to show any real personalities, except for the movie’s final scene that involves two people named Alexandra (played by Haley Ramm) and Aaron (played by Pete Williams). Most of the movie is about the neurotic reactions of Mark and Mary when they find out that having a swinger lifestyle creates more chaos in their marriage than they thought it would.

The movie also falls into the same predictable tropes of swinger sex comedies about a man and a woman who decide to have an open relationship: Any queerness almost always has to be from the woman, so the man can get his girl-on-girl sexual needs fulfilled. But when it comes to the man possibly being queer or willing to have a sexual experience with a man, there’s a lot of cringing and hesitation from the man about having sexual relations with another man.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” follows this trope too, although one mid-credits scene is a half-hearted and very tame attempt to distance the movie from that trope. Let’s put it this way: The movie spends a lot more screen time making it clear that Mary has sex with other women, while making it very ambiguous if Mark actually goes through with his promise to have sex with a man during a threesome.

People who’ve watched enough of these types of movies can see that the filmmakers seem afraid of alienating the privileged, cisgender, heterosexual male audience that they want to attract to give this movie “indie cred” praise. And that’s why there’s no actual sex between men that’s depicted in the movie. However, the movie’s “woke” characters, such as Mary, sure love to vilify cisgender, heterosexual men as society’s biggest “oppressors.”

Rosenfield and Law show some very good comedic timing in their roles as Mark and Mary. It’s too bad that their characters are such a horrendous mismatch of personalities, it’s kind of repugnant to watch Mark and Mary’s imcompatibility. It also gets tedious to watch two people in a marriage when their relationship becomes a competition to see who can outdo each other in being the more sexually adventurous partner. 

Except for sexual attraction, there’s not much that Mark and Mary see in each other, because they sure don’t talk about anything substantial that shows they’re in this marriage for the long haul. Mary is hard to take with her politically correct preaching over the most trivial of things. Mark is just a hypocritical whiner who lacks common sense. Anyone who thinks that Mark and Mary are a great couple probably has a distorted view of what a healthy relationship is.

Here’s an example of how Mark and Mary are terrible at communicating: There’s a scene where, after Mark and Mary have agreed to have an open marriage, Mark notices that the bedsheet on their bed has been stained with sexual activity from Mary and an unknown lover. He rips the sheet off in disgust, as if he’s shocked that Mary could possibly have sex with someone else in their bed. 

It turns out that in their first time doing “ethical non-monogamy” rule negotiations, Mark and Mary never discussed where they would be allowed to have sex with other people. And this is after Mark said he didn’t want to know the details of Mary’s sexual encounters outside the marriage. If he had any common sense, it should have led to him to say that they couldn’t bring any lovers to their home, because of the very real likelihood that he’d see things he doesn’t want to see.

Mark finding the stained bedsheet was really just a means to create another cutesy titled chapter about Part 2 of Mark and Mary’s rules negotiations. Yes, Mark and Mary are young, but they’re not children. However, watching “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” feels like you’re watching people who are stuck in a selfish teenage mentality and who are pretending to be emotionally mature adults. No thank you.

Vertical Entertainment will release “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 5, 2021.

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