Directed by Randy Ramos Jr., created and written by lead actress Michaela Zannou, Natalia, a therapist specialized in couples, treats high maintenance New York couples while her own marriage is falling apart. Tensions get high and boundaries get crossed as Natalia’s patients and her husband push her over the edge and she can’t seem to be able to follow her own advice. Also starring: Ryan Metcalf, Ashley Weismantel, Manni L. Perez, Angela Petruzziello, Lauren Lebeouf, Lawrence Stallings, Rob Alicea, Ken Arpino, Juan Ayala and James Sarli.
Natalia is the classic conundrum, a person who can’t take their own advice, happy to instruct her clients how to improve their marriage but unable to see past her rage and pain to begin fixing her own. The film begins by cycling through a handful of her clients but has a great back and forth to show you her own struggles in comparison to theirs, it’s funny and well put together to really hit an ironic note. It’s a nice smooth way to introduce you to the story and gives a little bit of an introduction before diving into its more dramatic elements.
Zannou portrays Natalia in a very relatable way, you can easily understand her frustrations with her marriage and having to listen to her clients complain about the same problems but never attempt to resolve them. She also does a great job of making that slight adjustment between her everyday and work persona, it’s not a huge difference but she does enough to make it clear and add to the impact of that back and forth in the opening. It’s a convincing performance and one that’s very easy to watch. She’s well supported with those playing her married clients and best friend, none of them stand out among the rest, they all add a little bit to that initial comedy and round out the cast well.
The writing is funny, captivating and brings up a lot of questions about ethics, commitment and professionalism that aren’t answered out right but left open for discussion. You may not learn that much about the characters but they feel real enough, there aren’t any that feel one-dimensional despite several only having the briefest of appearances. The story isn’t hugely surprising, you can see where it’s going but it does well to be entertaining regardless. The direction is similarly smooth like the story, it has a little bit of movement to it but is nicely stationary in the work moments to reflect the more professional and refined nature, compared with Natalia’s lively moments outside of her office. The editing enhances the two sided style of its earlier moment and adds a little bit of a personality to the visual throughout.
There are a few areas where it could have made more of an impact, firstly though the editing is well done, it could have been slightly quicker or sharper to really hit home the irony even more. The score is problematic, it’s overused and not mixed well with the dialogue, it’s too loud and a little distracting, it would have been better to use less and scale back on the volume. It’s also a shame that the initial comedy doesn’t remain throughout, it switches gears to the more dramatic but keeping at least a hint of that humour would have made it even better.
Couples Therapy starts out as a comedy but slowly evolves into more of a personal dilemma, going from funny to relatable and a little vulnerable. The writing presents a few choices for Natalia and the audience aren’t going to agree with all of them, which creates a nice opportunity for discussion of her ethics and views of marriage. It’s an entertaining 15-minutes but at the same time, it feels like it just missed out on a few extra touches that would have pushed it further.