Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

February 11, 2021

Polyamory and CNM are centered in two four new films, one now on TV

At the 2021 Sundance film festival, which took place online two weeks ago, at least two new independent movies premiered that revolve around polyam and open relationships.

One of them, There Is No "I" in Threesome, first airs tonight on HBO Max. Sadly, early reports sound like it's nothing to get excited about.

This is a 1½ hour documentary about an engaged couple who temporarily opened their relationship, apparently for a poor reason, and then found themselves in too deep. From what I've read their emotional intelligence seems cringingly below par.

Note: The guy in the couple is a film director and his fiancée is an actress. They self-documented their entire "monogam-ish" project from the start and sold it to HBO. Not the best motivation for opening one's relationship, IMO, and not exactly respectful of whatever other parties might get involved with them.

Except that the main other party who showed up was also a director by trade, so maybe they were all in on it from the start.

In today's New York Times: 

A director and his fiancée chronicle their yearlong open relationship in this documentary that offers a clever examination of perspective.

By Natalia Winkelman

...The director Jan Oliver Lucks, who goes by Ollie, and his fiancée Zoe are taking the plunge into an open relationship. Living on opposite sides of New Zealand, the long-distance duo are free to date and sleep with other people for a year leading up to their wedding. Using iPhones, they will each record the experience: Ollie hopes the documentary will make them poster children for an enriching alternative to monogamy.

Ollie and Zoe prove a sweet match, but as they coo and cuddle, they can be difficult to root for. Both are attention-seeking and excessively admiring of their project, and the home video of their hangouts tends toward indulgence. They may aim to present polyamory as tenable and fulfilling, but it comes off more as a risky experiment — particularly once Zoe’s fling with a theater director named Tom develops into a serious romance that strains her bond with Ollie.

But as our central couple’s connection falters, the documentary evolves into an astute examination of perspective. ... As the film’s director and narrator, Ollie controls the story, and he uses this role to showcase his jealousy and his hurt. His cleverness culminates in the documentary’s startling final act, where Ollie shows how the artifice of filmmaking can mirror the lies we tell ourselves about love.

Two-minute trailer:

Says a reviewer in The Daily Beast who's hostile to the whole idea: They Decided to Have Sex With Other People. Disaster Ensued. (Jan. 31):

By Nick Schager

...Through intimate home movie footage of their life together and apart, all of it shot on iPhones for maximum confessional intimacy, it details the ups and downs of their attempt to remain true to one another while also allowing space in their bed for others. ... Yet by its conclusion, what it ultimately turns out to be is something knottier, and more intriguing: a warts-and-all portrait of personal and creative arrogance and narcissism, and the damage invariably wrought by such qualities.

[It] begins with Ollie and Zoe at the top of a towering indoor high dive, where they disrobe, strap on GoPros, and prepare to leap. As this sight suggests, their film is a venture of total exposure, just as their impending jump to the pool below is meant to speak to their joint leap into a polyamorous unknown. That Zoe doesn’t join Ollie in taking that plunge, then, proves an immediate tip-off to the trouble ahead. ...

A writer for MSN Entertainment has a more sympathetic take: Engaged Couple Gets Experimental in Clever Documentary (Jan. 31)

By Elizabeth Weitzman

...The likeably awkward Ollie feels that he missed out sexually during his 20s, and he sees the next 12 months as his last chance to explore before committing to one person forever. Zoe, a beguiling extrovert, is game. So they establish a "monogam-ish manifesto" and set out to "make the most of our bodies while they're still stretchy."

[However,] Ollie and Zoe eventually discover what his mother could have told them from the start: The path they've planned is more complex than they expected.

"Being polyamorous means choosing to reject monotony," Ollie explains to the audience. "That means we have to negotiate jealousy instead. Which is just an emotion you can train yourself to overcome. Right?"

Actually, he's not entirely wrong. There is jealousy, and it is overcome. ... But much to both Ollie and Zoe's surprise, love proves more cumbersome than envy. Even as Ollie works hard to keep boundaries around his relationship with Siobhan, Zoe finds herself drawn more and more deeply to Tom, another director.

And it is here that we have to note... the couple we're so invested in is, indeed, keeping secrets. And not from each other, but from us, the audience. ... When it turns out that we're being misled in a very significant way, some viewers may feel genuinely betrayed.

UPDATE:  On Cosmopolitan's site, Gabrielle Smith does a thorough takedown of so many things wrong with this film: 9 Reasons HBO Max's New Documentary "There's No 'I' in Threesome" Made Me Want to Literally Scream (Feb. 15). Pass that on. Link to it in comments you post about the film or in others' comments you see. 

SPOILER: (Last chance to cover your eyes.) That ending that may leave viewers feeling "genuinely betrayed" is an admission that this "documentary" is fake. The woman is not Zoe but an actress hired later to play her. The real Zoe broke up with him along the way and took her half of the footage with her. Story in The Guardian.  


Also premiering at Sundance was a not-cringy-sounding film that might be a better watch: Ma Belle, My Beauty"A surprise reunion in the South of France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers."

 In Seattle's alt-weekly The Stranger, Ma Belle, My Beauty Is the Queer, Poly Escape We Needed  (Jan. 31)

By Jasmyne Keimig

First-time writer-director Marion Hill's sun-dappled feature Ma Belle, My Beauty is a fun and engaging study of queer relationships, polyamory, and how fucking SICK slurping wine in the French countryside can look.

The film opens with Fred and Bertie (Lucien Guignard and Idella Johnson), two recently married musicians who live in Fred's parents' beautiful farmhouse in the south of France. A depressed Bertie feels like a stranger in a strange land, hardly finding the will to sing despite her upcoming tour. In an attempt to raise her spirits, Fred invites their ex-lover from their life in New Orleans, Lane (Hannah Pepper-Cunningham), to the property as a surprise. Sensuous parties, heartbreak revisited, strained silences, soaring music, and really hot sex ensue.

[Director] Hill does well because Ma Belle, My Beauty does not attempt to be the tentpole film for queer, polyamorous storylines. While fundamental to the plot, the film treats their threeway relationship as means to explore the threads that bind the characters together rather than a starter guide for the poly-curious monogamous crowd. It deftly explores jealousy, but never between Bertie, Lane, and Fred, who all have an easiness and respect for each other that feels refreshing. ...

In Hollywood Reporter: 'Ma Belle, My Beauty': Film Review (Feb. 8)

By Boyd van Hoeij

...Stories about three-way relationships... often lure viewers into their web with the promise of liberating or kinky goings-on before things fall apart and a much more conventional sense of morality rears its ugly head.

It is thus refreshing to see a film... which tries to grapple with the realities of a polyamorous relationship without selling the threesome’s arrangement as something beguilingly unconventional that’s only fun to watch when other people do it. It’s a shame then, that easy access to the material’s profound emotional authenticity is sometimes hampered by writer-director-editor Marion Hill’s storytelling inexperience. ...

[Bertie is] an increasingly isolated African-American woman adrift amid gorgeous foreign surroundings. Then fellow New Orleans gal Lane (Hannah Pepper) suddenly shows up out of nowhere with her rucksack and a smile. It takes a while to work out that Fred has asked the woman Bertie had a relationship with at the same time as Fred did when they all lived in the States to come and visit them to ... help chase away Bertie’s blues. ...Hill, credited not only as the sole screenwriter but also as her own editor, often seems too close to the material to facilitate audience understanding. ...

...The actors have an easy energy with one another that honors their character’s complicated past and the details of their relationships are revealed with a nice subtlety. The movie works best when the film’s central women are playing power games with one another — each trying to win the desire of the other while pretending they couldn’t care less. All the while Fred is just sort of floating around totally confused with what his wife wants or how they can proceed with their life. Again, this is not about him. Even if they are in his parents’ house.

...Noa’s arrival does shake up Lane and Bertie’s relationship adding a fourth to the already complicated three. It’s here the film shows the endless possibilities of a cinema truly open to polyamory. Love triangles — love quadrangles — are so much more delicious when multiple people can be involved. Yes, we need more bisexual and polyamorous representation for political reasons, but we also need it for better stories!

This is very clearly a movie made by a queer person. That’s evident in the relationship dynamics and the costuming, the casting and the gaze. Look, when a character takes a strap-on out of her backpack in the middle of a sex scene you know you’re in good hands. It’s that authenticity that elevates the film.

Authentic stories about polyamorous relationships are still all too rare, especially ones that prioritize the experiences of queer women and non-binary people, especially ones with a queer Black woman protagonist. So while the film is not without its flaws and missteps, it’s hard not to be grateful to enter its world of sex and feelings and food and nature. ... And it looks way more fun in the south of France!

from Variety Feb. 18:

Good Deed Entertainment has nabbed North American rights to “Ma Belle, My Beauty,” a queer polyamorous love story....

The film ... won the Audience Award in the NEXT category at the festival. It will next screen at the South by Southwest Film Festival in the “Festival Favorites” section.

...“Our entire team has fallen for this film, its characters, and its grounded, refreshing portrait of relationships and romance,” Good Deed Entertainment CEO Scott Donley said. “We are honored to help bring Marion’s film to audiences this year.” 

And later in Elle, from a Black critic in New York: How the Non-Monogamous Black Woman at the Center of Ma Belle, My Beauty Empowered Me, by Patrice Peck (March 5). "In protagonist Bertie, I felt the relief of living life on one’s own terms." 


UPDATE LATER: And here's a third film in this new genre also reviewed briefly in today's  New York Times:

 ‘Show Me What You Got’ Review: Modern Love in Black and White. (Feb. 11). The movie has been circulating in indie backwaters for more than a year; its official opening night is tomorrow, February 12.

The film follows three wayward souls who meet and enter a polyamorous relationship in Los Angeles.

By Lovia Gyarkye

“Show Me What You Got” revels in the erotic: fiery kisses, entangled limbs, endless caressing. But the film, which follows three wayward souls in Los Angeles who meet and enter a polyamorous relationship, struggles when it comes to making viewers care about more than just sex.

After attending a string of terrible business meetings on behalf of his father, an Italian soap opera star, Marcello (Mattia Minasi) meets Nassim (Neyssan Falahi), a struggling actor and semiprofessional fighter, on the beach. ... Two become three when the pair meet Christine (Cristina Rambaldi), an artist grieving her grandfather, at the coffee shop where she works. The three eventually fall in love, and Svetlana Cvetko, the director and cinematographer, renders their courtship beautifully. They meditate on their fears at Christine’s art show, laugh at the beach and talk dreams over eggs and toast.

Billed as an ode to Francois Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” “Show Me What You Got” embraces the experimentalism of the French New Wave, but leaves much to be desired when it comes to exploring the inner lives of Marcello, Nassim and Christine. The three millennials remain sketches, as if the fact that they are in a throuple relieves the screenplay of character development. Attempts to weave their stories together, either explicitly through the narrator’s exposition or more subtly through the cinematography, don’t always work. As a result, while aspects of the characters’ relationship are gorgeously captured, the moments that test their bond feel forced.

Not rated. In English, Italian and French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.

It also got a review in the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 12): A polyamorous relationship is laid bare in 'Show Me What You Got'.

...But the film’s higher aims never take hold. The breeziness feels at odds with implied gravitas. An omniscient narrator tells us what each character is feeling, negating any subtext. What’s presented as a pure form of love too often feels like handsome strangers taking an erotic tumble in a fragrance ad. Cvetko’s black-and-white photography, though gorgeous, reinforces that sense through a boilerplate view of L.A. — Hollywood, beach, downtown, desert. ...




Diana Adams posts,

Trust me, watch Lust Life Love[when/where available; add it to your imdb watchlist --Ed.]. 

It's a romantic drama about a bisexual polyamorous woman falling in love with a monogamous man, set in 2010s NY polyamory scene. It skillfully explains a lot of polyamory concepts (like compersion, and what negotiating agreements looks like), while giving one of the best portrayals of the joys and pains of polyamory I've ever seen. It doesn't try to advocate that its painless or that its ill-fated -- it just shares a realistic depiction of a challenging romance.

It was also totally surreal for me to watch this and be surprised to see a scene at the party I co-hosted and co-founded in 2007,  the original Poly Cocktails at Madame X; 14 years ago to the day of our first Poly Cocktails on Vday 2007 in NYC.  I watched this alone in a pandemic in Germany and it felt like I was watching a history of a magical time in history that I was part of and is now passed. Sigh. I miss you all so much. Made me so nostalgic.



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