Pink Wall review: Uncovers a few small, raw truths about relationships

Shot over the course of nine days in director Tom Cullen’s native Wales, the film is divided into six non-chronological chapters

Pink Wall trailer

Dir: Tom Cullen. Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Jay Duplass, Sule Rimi, Ruth Ollman, Sarah Ovens, TJ Richardson. 15 cert, 82 mins

It can feel claustrophobic to get stuck inside someone else’s relationship. You’re hemmed in on all sides by desire, affection, and fury. The best films about love and its slow decay – from Blue Valentine to this year’s Marriage Story – have found a way to manipulate this odd and suffocating sensation. Pink Wall, the debut feature from Downton Abbey’s Tom Cullen, gets the approach right, even if we don’t quite believe in its characters.

Shot over the course of nine days in Cullen’s native Wales, the film is divided into six non-chronological chapters, marking each year in Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) and Leon’s (Jay Duplass) relationship. The shifts in time are signalled through changing aspect ratios: an intimate 4:3 is used during the couple’s early days and a wider 16:9 is employed whenever they start to grow apart. Leon and Jenna first meet in a sweat-drenched, sticky-floored nightclub. Their first night together is driven less by lust than an enflamed co-dependency. Leon is in awe of Jenna’s drive and efficiency; she can’t help but love the admiration. He inspires her to change tracks and pursue her dreams while he, in turn, becomes complacent over his own lack of ambition.

It’s here that Pink Wall becomes more predictable. Stripped of its indie credentials and Cullen’s naturalistic dialogue, it’s just another story of an insecure man-child who’s become a burden to a driven, ultra-competent girlfriend. There are frequent references to Leon’s own self-infantilisation (“Why do you look like a two-year-old being told off?” Jenna complains), while it’s made clear that he never does the dishes and watches TV all day. Jenna, on the other hand, has a tendency to be the scold – there’s a moment where Leon openly admits that he’s terrified of her, because he’s destined to always end up a disappointment. It’s not necessarily that Cullen’s story rings false, but that his characters often fit too neatly into the same moulds we’ve seen a thousand times before in Hollywood’s studio comedies.

But Maslany and Duplass commit wholeheartedly to the script, bringing a kind of actorly poise to each ebb and flow of their squabbles. Although they have a tendency to verbalise things that would be far more powerful if left unsaid, Cullen has crafted two roles that would be any performer’s dream. They tussle over meaty topics like babymaking, monogamy, and desire. Their arguments often feel like watching two boxers circling each other in the ring, as each wait for the right moment to break the other’s defences.

In fact, the most intriguing aspect of Pink Wall is how well it deals with the subtle powerplays that happen in every relationship. Jenna and Leon each try to leverage the situation with a well-timed joke or an appeal to the other’s sexual desires. Cullen may pass through familiar waters with Pink Wall, but he still manages to uncover a few small, raw truths about ourselves along the way.

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