Romantic movies love to lie. In fact, they make an art out of it without necessarily trying to aspire to any artistic levels. Their number one goal is to feed that beastly organ most of us have been slaves to at one time or another. Yes, the heart is a prickly thing. And sometimes all it wants is to get inoculated with a shot of Hollywood happily ever afters. At other times the heart is, for better or for worse, taking the backseat to reason which always demands something a little more real from its romance. The axiom seems to be that reality elevates romantic movies from the lower depths of guilty pleasures to the slightly higher plains of sophistication. First-time feature writer-director Shaun Kosta tackles romance with both reason and heart in mind and you can’t help but respect that kind of reach for truth.
“The Republic of Two” is a story born out of a deep understanding about what it means to feel like an outsider; both in your own relationship with yourself, and with the person you’re terribly in love with. The film opens with the lilting sounds of a xylophone, almost like a nice little homage to Hans Zimmer’s score in “True Romance” (which itself is an homage to Malick’s “Badlands” of course) and in a few wordless shots of the couple the film does a great job at showing the love between them. Even before you find out about the things that can ultimately corrupt this republic, you are glad and made welcome to be a visiting tourist. Tim (Brent Bailey) is an aspiring doctor who needs to finish his last exam and internship before having a chance at applying to med school. His girlfriend Caroline (Janet Montgomery) doesn’t yet know what she wants out of life and has a hard time getting accustomed to the L.A. lifestyle and Tim’s snobby med friends. When the bigger apartment above Tim’s studio opens up, he takes the plunge and asks Caroline to move in with him. Her tearful acceptance comes after the first major fight they have and not twenty minutes in, you’re already presented with a scarily realistic version of what it’s like to blur individual identities in a relationship.
While most romantic movies press the forward button on the inevitable awkwardness that occurs when you move in with your significant other, “The Republic of Two” takes its time to develop its two main characters within it. It’s a bold move, one that doesn’t always work because of moments that feel slightly forced (watch how quickly Caroline says she’ll finish Tim off after not being able to sleep with him) but they ultimately work in the characters’ favors because their imperfections make them into believable human beings.
While it’s initially hard to understand where Caroline’s sudden fear of her own relationship comes from, when she says that she misses “the way I used to feel about myself” you feel the genuine sting of life slapping you in the face. These raw moments of human vulnerability are captured quite poignantly with the down-to-earth and genuine dialogue but, they’d fall flat if it weren’t for the performances. Montgomery, who was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her ballerina in Darren Aronofksy‘s “Black Swan,” provides really nuanced dimensions to Caroline and even in some of her most frustrating moments (quite a few of those) she keeps her grounded. To the character’s detriment, her lack of aspirations don’t do her any favors in making her feel like a complete person, and for our money she makes too many sudden turnarounds that you’re ultimately left with a bit of an indifferent feeling by the end. But to bring it back to the wonderful Montgomery, those faults are with the writing in the second half of the film and not her alluring performance.
Tim is more of a conundrum, but again it’s not a fault that can be attributed to Bailey, who plays him with just the right balance of suave casualness and humor. He comes off as too much of a pushover for the mid climax to feel as real as it should, but what saves Tim in the first half of the movie is the surprising moments. It feels like the script is holding him by his v-neck as he dangles above the endless abyss of cliche. The perfect example comes when Tim’s co-worker Mindy invites him to have drinks with her after he’s had a fight with Caroline. The previous Mindy scene would have you believe that Tim would take that chance, but he instead chooses to get into the shower with his hurt girlfriend. Another great scene comes at mid point, when he’s talking with his best friend Kendal (Brandon Fobbs) and his own friend scolds him for letting girls walk all over him. Tim’s wish to cryogenically freeze Caroline so that he could fuck around a bit before getting married to her is that stinging slap again. The vulnerability is tragically all-too real.
The biggest issue with “The Republic of Two” are the kinds of things that plague first-time features and should hopefully only be used as learning curves. While the film is peppered with genuine emotions and honest performances from the two leads, the peaks and troughs this republic goes through can at times make you feel like an alien in a foreign country. Perky montage sequences bridge moments of seriousness to a point where the tonal switches break the illusion of the real kind of romance movie Kosta is going for. The ending is also something that’s hard to swallow but this review tip-toed around the specifics of plot for a reason. The everyday doesn’t sound half as interesting on paper as much as it’s made compelling in this small, charming and genuine movie. With that said, you’ll have to see the ending for yourself to find out how Tim and Caroline end up, but let’s just say that emotions run a little too rampant in the final 10 minutes.
“The Republic of Two” is far from being a perfect movie, first-time features rarely are, but it has more than enough sweetness in it thanks to its two charismatic leads and a screenplay that has as many imperfections as commitment itself. Shaun Kosta deserves a lot of props for trying to tackle the more artistic approach to a romance movie, the kind which aims to satisfy both pesky heart and stubborn reason, and we’re very curious to see where he goes from here. While you might walk away not being totally in love with Tim and Caroline’s clashing personalities, you’ll still be walking away feeling like you’ve just spent an intimate and sophisticated hour and a half with two people trying to cope with life and love. This kind of naked truth should never go out of cinematic style. [B+]