My Frenemy Made a Movie and I Like It
We Used To Be Together is about the end of the relationship between a blank verse poet and a middle school science teacher, and how their wounded feelings and tangled regrets affect their mutual circle of friends.
Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as boring as it sounds.
We Used To Be Together was written, produced, and directed by William J. Barnes. We had study hall together. He struck me back then as intelligent, a bit pretentious, charismatic, a tad arrogant, and ambitious to the point of annoying.
I hate how much I like this movie.
The opening shot, a close up of an ant crawling across a brick wall, lasts four minutes and fifty-two seconds. I wish I could say that it lasts four minutes and fifty-one seconds too long but I must admit that after four minutes and fifty seconds I was moved nearly to tears.
Are we the ant or are we the wall? I sent the director a Facebook message asking him that but he has yet to respond. The bastard genius.
The performances are so muted and restrained and the cinematography is so observationally removed that it takes several scenes to be sure which couple recently broke up, or, more metaphysically, which actors are the stars of the film.
Some might find this overly affected or even downright incompetent but I could not. And I really, really tried to because I still resent the way the filmmaker criticized my taste in comic books. (I have subsequently read Maus.)
The aftermath of the breakup is depicted in twelve scenes and each scene is limited to one location. Each location is the setting for an event that both exes happen to attend. Not surprisingly, they seem to exclusively hang out on the clenched butthole side of gentrification.
I assumed the dramatic structure would grow repetitive and grating but excellent lighting and sound design prevented that. It also helped that the director managed to convince someone to pull a nip slip in the second act. Bravo, auteur! (It was very tasteful.)
There were only three moments where my personal biases attempted to intrude on my critical engagement:
1) Twenty-two minutes into the film, while Bernard stood leaning against the bathroom door frame in baroque stoicism, I felt the sudden urge to berate the television in Mystery Science Theater 3000-style mockery. But the ghost of Luis Buñuel laid an ectoplasmic hand on my shoulder and shamed me into silence.
2) During the barbecue scene, I noticed a mutual acquaintance in the background by the fire pit. My lips contorted into a meaner shade of smirk. But the director was wise enough not to give her a line of dialogue or otherwise subject his audience to her unfortunate, yet ridiculous, lisp.
3.) Finally, and most pitifully, I watched the Special Thanks section of the closing credits with a growing indignation. I felt as if I was owed something for not only the encouragement I gave William J. Barnes during study hall, second period, eleventh grade, but also for that time I offered him my last huff of Airduster.
But he may well have misconstrued that whole “you need a director chair to go with your miserable ego you beard made of pubes” conversation. Voice distortion is a common side effect of inhalants. Either way, I didn’t donate to his crowdfunding campaign so fuck me I guess.
Considered more objectively, this film is well worth a watch through by anyone interested in microbudget cinema, messy interpersonal dynamics, or the occasional bandana headband.
We Used To Be Together is available for streaming on Vimeo. There are too many bearded white men in cut-off jean shorts and Converse sneakers all mumbling at each other for it to be available on YouTube. Plus the aforementioned nipple.