What happens when two unhinged human beings, filled with insecurity and hurt, tell each other how they really feel without holding back? Fireworks. Writer/director Ben Petrie’s uncomfortably real comedy/drama hybrid places its audience as a fly-on-the-wall for the emotional meltdown that follows when a boyfriend checks his girlfriend’s phone for evidence of wrong-doing.
Centering on a young painter, Liv (played by Grace Glowicki) and her boyfriend Robert (played by Petrie), the film is an extended conversation, simply produced, and takes advantage of its single location to build tension. This simplicity is buoyed by incredible performances from Petrie and Glowicki (partners in real-life) and their over-the-top, theatrical acting nonetheless hits upon truths that interestingly upend cinematic stereotypes.
According to Petrie, the film was shot “over the course of 3 long, dark, consecutive nights in a bachelor apartment in downtown Toronto,” and this small, claustrophobic apartment is the perfect setting for a relationship to self-destruct. Throughout the film, Robert and Liv move around the apartment like boxers that fight with words instead of fists, and the way it was filmed brings us into the room in an intimate way. At times, these characters and their problems feel a little too real, and this is proof of impressive dialogue and acting. We are wallflowers, watching the plot unfold, unable to do anything but stare, laugh, and cry.
The film is called Her Friend Adam, but it’s not really about Adam at all. It’s about her, a painter who values her independence and resents the fact that her significant other doesn’t trust her friendship with another male. Liv is a welcome antidote to the paralyzing, trite trope of the manic pixie dream girl, and it’s an absolute treat to see her character destroy our pre-conceived notions of the boyfriend, whom we’re accustomed to being the sympathetic protagonist. She refuses to be pigeonholed, and Glowicki’s role is one the funniest—and strongest—characters that came out of this year’s Sundance festival, where she won a special jury prize for outstanding performance. The film subverts stereotypes from other films with style and grace (sorry), and from start to end, she is on a mission to defend her gender against quirky, unrealistic indie tropes.
There’s a tone of voice in this film that is deeply familiar to anyone who has ever fought with a loved one, and it sends shivers down my spine; this is the rational, slightly defensive sound of someone trying to explain their terrible behavior to a loved one. Petrie’s Robert is the kind of nice guy that masks his insecurity with self-deprecation, and his inability to trust his girlfriend speaks of a different kind of domestic jealousy–this character is not the alpha male we generally see in situations such as this. Though it is an exaggeration of how someone might normally react, his performance still feels real and honest. As for shitty behavior, there’s a lot of that on display here, and it’s hilarious to see Petrie lose the fight. He does so in spectacular fashion, literally crying, and at the climactic moment, the film brings in Adam (Andrew Chown), to relieve some of the tension from the fight.
Though Glowicki’s performance (and her fake orgasm) is the heart of this film, it is rich in physical, emotional, and intellectual details from all three cast members, and it takes advantage of cramped conditions to bring us closer to a fight that twists and turns in unpredictable ways. This exercise in escalation is both fierce and uncomfortable, but it is well worth watching.