A former couple has arranged to return each other’s things one evening after a period of not seeing one another, giving back books and t-shirts that they’ve left at one another’s homes.
Their conversation is awkward, full of small talk and stammering pauses that belie their real feelings. They attempt to hang out, dancing around what they want to say — until their real feelings inevitably bubble to the surface, exposing the hurt and misunderstandings that absence hasn’t softened.
This short romantic dramedy — co-written by stars Lola Blanc and Kenny Lucas, and directed by Blanc — is a charming film about a bittersweet situation, as two former lovers navigate a tricky transition out of the hopes and dreams of romance into an uneasy truce. Set over the course of an evening, the usually gleaming look of romance films is darker and more saturated than usual, hinting at the moodier themes of the narrative.
The dexterous, witty writing’s humor and sharp emotional observations come from the use of subtitles, which flash each character’s real feelings and thoughts as they talk. It’s a gambit we’ve seen in classic films like “Annie Hall,” but applied here in a rawer, more emotionally direct way. The conceit is very funny and relatable, and the comedy cleverly comes from the gap between what’s pretended on the surface and the rawness and vulnerability of the emotions underneath.
Blanc and Lucas have a back-and-forth that feels lived-in, familiar and even affectionate, and it’s easy to believe them as a couple with a simpatico sense of intelligence, interests and humor. But as their conversation escalates — and their feelings can’t so easily be disguised — viewers get a glimpse of the larger conflicts and rough edges that likely brought their romance to an end. The easygoing comedy shifts into a more melancholic register, as the subtitles express the real anguish and hurt that the pair have not quite gotten over. They still are bewildered about why two seemingly compatible people did not quite work out romantically, and even when they negotiate a ceasefire after their verbal dust-up, the question still hangs over them.
“In Other Words” is a sharp, funny snapshot about the vagaries of love and communication, even when the romance has come to an end. It uses a clever conceit to illuminate the gap between the words we say and the emotions we feel, showing how we can use words to protect and insulate ourselves from deep emotional pain. “Communication is key” is a trope of supposedly good emotional advice, but it’s much harder and trickier to put into practice, especially when words can be weapons and it’s easy to dissemble about our real thoughts and feelings. That’s the small but poignant tragedy in a broken romance sometimes. We can riff and banter about any number of topics with the people we love. But when it comes to speaking from the heart, we have a hard time hearing each other — even when we’re often saying the same thing.