As technology grows, fashions change, icebergs erode and social media changes the way we interact with one another, there’s still a couple questions that stay the same. Chiefly among them, “can men and women simply just be friends?” That building block of essentially every rom-com ever made still stands unmoved and largely unanswered (although truthfully question can be expanded more for inclusion in this moreen age). C.A. Gabriel and Renee Felice Smith mine this fertile ground in their feature debut, The Relationtrip, that’s essentially what would happen if Michel Gondry directed When Harry Met Sally… for millennials. Don’t let that last word dissuade you, as this sweet, honest and surreal film has a lot going for it.
Liam (Matt Bush) and Beck (Renee Felice Smith) are 20-something single loners, desperately fighting their friend’s calls to settle down and how up. Their jobs help cement that this isn’t a love story mired in the past. Liam spends his days making a living as game streamer and Beck is a quirky barista at a hip coffee shop. Though fiercely independent, you can tell a loneliness is seeping underneath. They’re certainly willing to fall into the shambles of love, just on their own terms, not anyone else’s.
Through happenstance, they met at a mutual friend’s “Salon de Musique”, which finds Liam floundering (or flourishing) in a performance of a one man rap duo, after his friend abandons him. The two hit it off instantly and over tacos speak to their mutual anger of their friend’s not allowing them to just be by themselves. On a whim they decide to run away from the world, for a weekend in the desert. This won’t be some hinky getaway, as some precautionary guidelines are in place: two bedrooms, a pool, an espresso machine, no funny business, no pontificating about life or existentialism, and no sob stories. Even a nonthreatening name for the event is decided upon, a “friendship friend trip,” which Liam insists is a name he’s work shopping.
Once out in the desert, with the nearest other person miles away, Liam and Beck start to get close, sensing a kindred spirit in the other. While at first they play it cool, they eventually start to give into their baser instincts. It’s here The Relationtrip exposes a surreal underbelly and the movie truly begins to sing. Just like everyone, our leads have skeletons in their closet and insecurities that hold them back in the face of a new friend, crush or love. Liam struggles with thoughts of his ex-girlfriend and is the epitome of “momma’s boy”. Beck, on the other hand has body issues on par with Tobias Funke. She also has a more destructive side, in the form of her childhood imaginary friend, Chippy.
Chippy comes to life in the form of a blue scraggly Muppet, created and performed by Spencer Lott. When he’s around Beck finds herself powerless, unwilling to keep her worst tendencies at bay, a charred safety blanket in a jean vest.
As the weekend wears on, every aspect of a basic relationship is on stark display. From the honeymoon period, where everything is shiny and new, to the days where being a slave to routine threatens to rob nary a hint of romance. In the hands of Smith & Gabriel, The Relationtrip is a sweetly honest look at modern day romance, where everything seems to move faster than it needs to. Sure, predictability peeks its head into the proceedings occasionally, but the heart, energy and surreal flights of fancy that are peppered throughout more than make up for any minor missteps. What’s more is that it speaks to the power of a carefully, lovingly make PB&J sandwich, which no one can argue about.