As genres go, the romantic comedy is particularly rule-bound. You know the score: boy meets girl, sparks fly, obstacles get in the way of love but are eventually overcome, culminating in marriage; or, in more modern variants, culminating in sex (with or without marriage); or, in even more modern variants, culminating in more sex (with or without marriage). These films tend to peddle the feel-good fantasy that love conquers all, while glossing over the entropy and attrition that time itself can bring to any relationship. Dan Levy Dagerman’s You, Me & Her comes as a welcome corrective to this well-worn pattern.
Here, the central couple, Mags (Selina Ringel, also the film’s writer) and Ash (Ritesh Rajan) were married ten years ago, and now have a toddler-aged son Kai who demands much of their attention. Mags runs a successful private equity firm from home, but is under the thumb of her Mexican father (Hernán Mendoza), while the appropriately named Ash has parlayed his long-term marijuana obsession into a literal seed business that he is perhaps not mature or responsible enough to manage. Together they have drifted into a sexless, if not yet quite loveless, domestic life in the LA suburbs, with an unaddressed undercoating of regret, resentment and recrimination.
In the hope of rekindling whatever magic their relationship once had, the two go on a luxury weekend to the beach resort of San Pancho on the west coast of Mexico. Initially taken under the wing of local swingers Manolo (Roberto Aguire) and Faviola (Marianna Burelli), Mags and Ash realise that they each have their limits, even as their desire is reawakened for sex, maybe even for sexual adventure. Which is where Angela (Sydney Park) comes in – a free-spirited ‘digital nomad’, who has already caught Mags’ eye in passing, even before Mags joins her yoga class on the beach. That class on the beach is what passes here for a meet-cute, as the two women admire each other’s mostly bared flesh, and Angela hears her new teacher utter the liberating, yet also potentially marriage-wrecking words: “Anything that does not serve you, what’s weighing you down, it’s time to let it go.”
A complicated love triangle follows. What Ash envisages as a saucy – and one-night – threesome, the suddenly girlish, giddy Mags is starting to regard as the emergence of her new sexuality, and the possibility of sex – perhaps even love and life – with a woman rather than with her husband. Of course there were already three in this marriage. “I know you can’t live without Mary Jane”, Mags had told Ash earlier, using a slang term for marijuana that is significantly also a female name, and expressly personifying this other woman in Ash’s life as “your best friend, your therapist, your lover.” Ash will concede, “She’s my therapist,” before insisting, “You’re my lover.” Angela too will turn out to be a therapist of sorts. Having heard what Angela does, Ash will ask sceptically, “Oh, and how do you teach spiritual wellness exactly?” Yet what Ash does not realise is that the rest of the time that the three spend together, both in Mexico and back in Los Angeles, is precisely a therapeutic session in which this couple, through their new friend’s mediacy, will rediscover who they are, what they want, and whether their relationship can survive the ensuing reconfiguration.
In other words, although You, Me & Her presents itself as a romantic comedy, it is the desired threesome (whatever form it might take) that is repeatedly deferred and frustrated till the end, and that is designed not so much to lead to marriage as to shake up – and perhaps save – one that has already long existed. Dagerman’s deft direction, and editors Joel Posey and Romina Rey’s use of montage and match cuts, ensure that the film moves along at a breezy clip between its two contrasting locations and its combative couple, while Ringel’s dialogue is sharp, witty and wise, making each character – even Ash and Mag’s similarly bickering married friends Ben (Graham Sibley) and Tiffany (Anna Campbell) – feel like real people with all-too-recognisable flaws.
The sole exception is Angela herself, who, in keeping with her name, seems (heaven)sent into the lives of this couple, serving and accommodating their conflicting desires in a miraculous, transformative intervention. Although Park is excellent in the part, there is in the end little to this benevolent seductress, who apparently exists only to give and give and give without ever taking or exhibiting any needs of her own, and who constantly flirts not just with Mag but with the Magical Negro trope – although that is complicated by the trio’s diverse racial mix.
Still, as even its title suggests, You, Me & Her places the married couple very much at the centre of its dialectic, with Angela objectified as the outsider to this relationship. Angela may come (if even that) and go, but it is Mag and Ash who will stay, having assimilated a spiritual lesson – about themselves and each other – expressed in safe words no less than the ever-evolving language of love.
strap: In Dan Levy Dagerman’s post-romantic comedy, a chronically married couple flirt with a threesome to rediscover themselves
© Anton Bitel