“That’s Not Us” And What Happens After The Happy Ending

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Back in May of 2015, AfterEllen interviewed That’s Not Us director William Sullivan and spent some time discussing the concept and motivation behind the unique methodology of filming a movie using a completely improvised script. Focused on three couples – one gay, one lesbian, and one straight, That’s Not Us analyzes the brush strokes of an intimate portrait of what happens after we fall in love. Although Sullivan faced a bit of a backlash regarding his decision to select the lesbian couple to face the obstacle of a sexual dry spell, hitting a bit close to home with the dreaded “lesbian bed death,”  he claims not to have even been aware of the concept until halfway through filming. Although the dysfunction in this couple’s relationship happens to be a plague notion that lesbians can’t escape from, the LBD in That’s Not Us is handled with nuance and refreshing humanity.

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Let’s back up a bit. That’s Not Us revolves around a group of six friends who get away for the weekend to a family friend’s beach house. The three couples represent each stage in the life of the relationship as well different sexual orientations, making That’s Not Us the most uniquely inclusive film I’ve ever seen. Liz and Dougie (Elizabeth Gray and Tommy Nelms) are the new couple in the honeymoon phase who can’t keep their hands off each other, but realize they don’t truly know one another and aren’t necessarily comfortable with their own vulnerabilities. James and Spencer (Mark Berger and David Rysdahl) are grappling with the looming likelihood of facing two years apart while Spencer goes to grad school in Chicago. Jackie and Alex (Nicole Pursell and Sarah Wharton) face a nonexistent sex life and a lack of communication after eight years of commitment.

Sullivan’s film follows each couple as they begin to identify and face the root of their problem after they realize a vacation doesn’t always mean an instant escape from issues they wish they could leave behind. Liz and Dougie are your typical newly in love straight couple, sex-obsessed and stuck in their masculine and feminine roles. Dougie, in particular, has trouble coming to terms with his own toxic masculinity after he’s forced to admit that he doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle. When Liz tries to step up as the alpha and caretaker of the relationship, the walls go up. Threatened by the thought of not being the one in charge, the one who performs the best and needs help the least, Dougie struggles to surrender himself to Liz and accept her help, which is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

James and Spencer, in proper male fashion, struggle with being honest with their feelings and fears. Caught between their own pride and desire to make the other happy while putting their feelings aside, communication seems to be occurring with everyone else except the two in the relationship. The acceptance of vulnerability and the courage to speak up at the risk of having a difficult conversation is something both men are forced to overcome.

This brings us to Jackie and Alex, the longest running relationship and most deep-rooted issue of the three couples. When a couple, particularly a couple made up of two women, spends eight years together, it’s natural for them to assume they can read one another and fulfill each other seamlessly. What’s also natural though, which we’ve all learned, is the possibility of sliding into a rut where you go through the motions and forget to check in with your partner. Although this issue is presented in the form of the dreaded lesbian bed death, it’s done so in a way that’s poignant and relevant. I found myself particularly able to relate to their fallout, as Alex and Jackie both acknowledge that they’ve incorrectly assumed the other partner is picking up on cues that are in fact being either missed or uninterpreted. Women might all be from Venus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we always speak the same language, and Jackie and Alex show us the importance of not making assumptions, and that it’s okay not to be a mind reader, but to make sure needs are expressed in order to be met.

“Although this issue is presented in the form of the dreaded lesbian bed death, it’s done so in a way that’s poignant and relevant.”

I found myself particularly able to relate to their fallout, as Alex and Jackie both acknowledge that they’ve incorrectly assumed the other partner is picking up on cues that are in fact being either missed or misinterpreted. Women might all be from Venus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we always speak the same language, and Jackie and Alex show us the importance of not making assumptions; it’s okay not to be a mind reader, but needs must be expressed in order to be met. During this emotional argument, Alex interrogates Jackie for leaving game night early angrily, giving Alex her “mean eyes” and going to bed. Jackie’s interpretation of the same scenario was that they had committed to some intimate time together and sauntered off after giving Alex her “sexy eyes”. Sound familiar? With all of the talking about feelings we do as women, you’d think we would be better at actually saying what we want when we want it. Sometimes we take for granted that we’re the same gender, assuming unfairly that we’re always required to be on the same page.

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Straight, gay, lesbian –  it doesn’t matter who we love, it’s how we love that William Sullivan uncovers in That’s Not Us. The human heart, as strong as it is, still requires constant care, no matter what body it lies inside. Sullivan and his remarkable cast give us three scenarios that occur in relationships every day and allow us to witness the work required to sustain them. We often watch movies that show queer women finding one another, falling in love, having hot sex, but the obstacles too frequently are ones that prevent a relationship from existing in the first place, especially with same sex couples.

“Straight, gay, lesbian –  it doesn’t matter who we love, it’s how we love that William Sullivan uncovers in That’s Not Us. The human heart, as strong as it is, still requires constant care, no matter what body it lies inside.”

That’s Not Us brings us into the picture after it’s already been painted and shows us how it can be preserved if taken care of properly. After the happy ending, the real story begins, and this is the one we all get to write out own ending to. If both the straight and the LGBT communities had more films like That’s Not Us to watch, we might all realize that although we’re all different, the way we love and the work it requires to foster that love is always the same.

That’s Not Us was released in 2015 and is currently available for instant streaming on Netflix.

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