A scene from William Sullivan's  That's Not Us  {Photo: REELING}

A scene from William Sullivan's That's Not Us {Photo: REELING}

That's Not Us screens on Thursday, September 24 at Chicago's Landmark Century Cinema. For additional ticketing information, click here

While not quite ready for prime time, William Sullivan’s That’s Not Us possesses some notably sophisticated traits that riff and ultimately outdoes The Big Chill; the film that Sullivan is clearly indebted to.  A sextet of friends – a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a straight couple - takes refuge from the metropolis in a beach house along the NYC coastline for the weekend. 

Nimble and convincingly acted (surprising given that most of the principle six are making their debut), Sullivan and co-writer Derek Dodge have an acute ear for dialogue and developing character. Conflict stirs between couples, where trust, dependence, and stagnation are among the chief concerns that distract our characters from their idyllic vacation. Like The Big ChillThat’s Not Us is designed around acts of histrionics that eventually pave the way for pathos. It’s a formula that (mostly) works because the actors are persuasive enough with the material and the film possesses some notable visual eccentricities – a sequence involving shower sex is marked by a Buñuel-level of wit and formalism.

The message of singularity that the film imparts is not particularly profound, however. Nor is Sullivan entirely successful in producing a visual space to mirror his thematic ambitions; at times the subtle movement of furniture provides enough information, yet other times he’s far too direct with his intentions (a sequence involving a chain link fence separating lovers is especially on the nose). Even more problematic is the film’s apparent sound design issues, where the sound editing is clearly not in sync with the image. The former issues are forgivable slights, though the latter sound issues will hopefully be corrected before the film screens.