Everything in Between Falls Short, But Shows Promise

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Taking place in Sydney, Everything in Between is a debut feature by local filmmaker Nadi Sha that centres on Jason (Jordan Dulieu) and Liz (Freyja Benjamin), who find themselves in hospital for very different reasons. Jason has just arrived after a harrowing suicide attempt, giving the audience a pit in their stomach that lingers throughout the film. Introducing us to the lead of a film this way before we understand anything about them is a bold decision that feels exceedingly callous towards both Jason and the audience the longer the film goes on.

We are introduced to Liz through a smoking ceremony and psychedelic sequence which includes a vision of herself on an operating table. The next time we see Liz is at the same hospital Jason arrived at, setting up a meet-cute. At this stage, the narrative seems destined to walk the same path as similar coming-of-age medical romance The Fault in Our Stars (2014), but with a messier, but perhaps more compelling origin. Instead, the pair spend little time at the hospital, but their circumstances create a lingering atmosphere that never leaves the story.

While Everything in Between is a decently made debut feature, where the film falters is in its strange lack of empathy, opting instead for an angered detachment and cynicism, from Jason’s parents to the doctors. This is designed to elevate the scenes with Liz, but even they are tinged with a level of cynicism that drags down even those parts. A decision at the midpoint of Everything in Between puts it onto a path of pathos and frustration over empathy and warmth that flattens a lot of scenes out that should be its emotional centre.

Freyja Benjamin (left) and Jordan Dulieu in Everything in Between.

As an astrology obsessive, Jason bumps up against Liz’s optimism with his existential nihilism. Astrological cynicism versus positivity is a deeply engaging idea for a film and as a bedrock for this relationship that is larger than romance. Unfortunately, these ideas are only explored in a few scenes, outweighed by scenes with Jason’s parents Meredith (Gigi Edgley) and Dave (Martin Crewes) instead. Expanding this story into the whole family would’ve been an interesting decision, combining their issues and narratives into Jason and Liz’s, but they never do, ultimately feeling like distractions instead.

There is an absence of a school or life outside of the home which feels unique to this sort of story, which allowed for a tighter plot centred purely on the four characters. However, too often these absences are filled with extended scenes that neither further the plot nor the emotionality of the film, like seeing Meredith anxious about Jason scratching her car, or seeing Dave’s failed lunch with his mistress Sammy (Ayeshah Rose).

The parents are a real drag to the story (deliberately so), which wouldn’t be an issue if they didn’t overwhelm many of the stronger moments between Jason and Liz. This is their story together and the film would’ve been stronger by focusing more on that relationship over the outside influences of the world, whether it be Jason’s parents or Liz’s illness.

Visually, the film is impressive for a first feature. Well composed and shot throughout, with several well-constructed locations, especially the wonderfully shot final scene with Jason and Liz at the hospital. 

Liz’s illness reduces the light she shone onto Jason’s life, who is seen to be thriving as she is wilting. There is a strangely vampiric sense to this exchange that is jarring and disconnects the film from its earlier stages, muddying the ideas the film introduces. 

The final scenes between Jason and Liz are where Everything in Between really shines through. Too many scenes get away from this story throughout the film but when we are given the two of them, the film shows real promise. The runtime allows this relationship to mature over time, but we are too often distracted by side characters that lack dimension to expand the central narrative.

Everything in Between will be screening at 31 cinemas nationally from October 20th, with an additional 18 Hoyts locations commencing from October 27th.

MIFF ’21: Indie Darling Freshman Year is an Unassuming Charmer

If Hollywood is to be believed, college is one big, endless party rife with booze, drugs and sexual encounters. What’s needed is an exploration of the minutiae of tertiary education, those quieter moments that prove just as key to the experience – a void this indie feature has just filled.

Having moved from his family home in Texas, teenager Alex (Cooper Raiff) is struggling in his first year of university in California, feeling isolated physically and emotionally with only his dog plush for company. That loneliness eases upon a chance encounter with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), a fellow dweller in his dormitory, who Alex falls in love with over the course of one night, only to be rejected by her the very next morning.

Freshman Year is the directorial debut of Cooper Raiff, who also wrote the screenplay in addition to starring. His picture first garnered attention last year on the festival circuit under the title of Shithouse, earning near-unanimous praise and securing Raiff as a film-maker to watch in the months and years ahead. Those are some pretty lofty ambitions to meet, especially when one considers that Raiff’s film is quite modest in its presentation.

Raiff impresses as both an actor and director – fronting the camera, he looks assured and comfortable in the role of Alex, keeping his emotions restrained and never resorting to melodrama; likewise, his helmsmanship is solid, with the film having steady pacing, clean cinematography, and mise-en-scene that’s perfectly suited to an indie feature. What’s here certainly doesn’t break new ground, but it demonstrates that Raiff does have a firm understanding of his craft.

Where Freshman Year differs from other indie, coming-of-age or college movies is in its fly-on-the-wall depictions of dorm life. There are no rowdy frat-houses or wild riots to be witnessed in Raiff’s picture, which is more preoccupied with discussing the ennui of university, hypothesising that living on-campus is not the endless thrill that others proclaim it to be. In that sense, one could consider the film as the antithesis to the likes of Animal House and Bad Neighbours.

Freshman Year is best appreciated though as a sweet, humble tale of two lovers. Raiff and Gelula’s chemistry is palpable throughout, their endearing nature swiftly ensured by their soft, amicable conversations in the first act, and further cemented by a cathartic night-time walk. In these moments, both Alex and Maggie prove so likeable that one can forgive the awkward, cliched moments they share in the latter half of the film. Well, almost.

While far from a revelation, Freshman Year is a respectable first effort from writer-director Cooper Raiff, who does well to reflect the experiences of a disaffected student, yet also proves adept at delivering a romance that viewers yearn for. It’ll be interesting to see what he crafts next.

Freshman Year is currently streaming on MIFF Play until August the 22nd.