‘The Other Way Around’ Review: A Fun, Feisty, Anti-Romantic Comedy That Hollywood Should Learn from

“Annie Hall” changed the game in being a cautionary tale about a couple that conspicuously doesn’t last, while at the same time an enduring case for the wonder and necessity of romance. “The Other Way Around” (“Volverèis”, or “You’ll Be Back” in the native Spanish) is a similarly wacky subversion of the rom-com theme in that its central couple, successful millennial director Ale (Itsaso Arana) and actor Alex (Vito Sanz), cheerfully announce to their friends and loved ones that they’re breaking up. A big party will mark the occasion and duly end the relationship — which, their friends remind them, has gone on forever (more than a decade). The only people who think this is a sane idea is Ale and Alex. Not even Ale’s father(played by director Jonás Trueba’s real-life father, Fernando) can fathom it, although it was originally his idea. The concept seems to be born out of a kind of 90s stand-up “I hate my wife and will party when she leaves” attitude. Why celebrate at the start of a lifelong prison sentence, yadda yadda. But Ale and Alex embrace it as a fun antidote to dull modern life, like polyamory or an elaborate gender reveal.

Some friends take the news well, some don’t. Actors in Ale’s upcoming film, in which Alex stars, place bets on whether they’ll change their minds. Their convictions about the future of the couple become a proxy for their own hopes and fears. In this “The Other Way Around” gets cooking as an intellectual exercise, with all of society a microcosm for Ale and Alex’s friendship group. How sad should we be when our friends break up, even if they seem perfectly happy about it? Is apparently harmless change a good thing or a bad thing? Yet in plotting the party, Ale and Alex realize there are piles of work to be done before they’re ready to be alone. At first, that’s logistical faff more than emotional baggage. Then the two start to blend.

Here Trueba experiments with dreamlike storytelling and some edgy editing techniques, which work well to illustrate the growing frays in Ale and Alex’s well-publicized certainty. Sanz plays Alex as a calm and confident man who’ll wear mediocrity well if it means being happy. Arana’s Ale is much more worldly: she seeks the profound in the everyday and looks for answers to life’s big questions. Hers is a performance made better by the fact that Arana herself has become a film director: she plays the nail-biting scene of showing her film to the cast and crew for the first time particularly well.

Perhaps the key scene is when Ale visits her father, seeking a backer for her plans but finding a skeptic. Urging Ale to change tack, he dusts off an old copy of Kierkegaard’s Repetition, an autobiographical story of a young man who proposed to a girl but changed his mind. Ale mulls what her father tells her, but thinks more about his offer to host the party at his house (it’s a good space).

Not far under the surface, of course, is doubt, and a pretty high-minded conception at that. “The Other Way Around” is influenced by Kierkegaard’s idea that we endlessly chase the familiar. But it also references Hegel, in that the destruction of the relationship appears to breed new closeness. As Hegel argued, when thesis meets counter-thesis, you get synthesis. That might seem like a leap — Hegel was talking about how societies organize themselves across generations — but “The Other Way Around” is similarly about the gymnastics we all do in order to co-exist. That peril can remind us why being alive feels meaningful in the first place. Or as another German philosopher, Nietzsche, said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

That’s not to say “The Other Way Around” is a big love-in that ends on a “they loved each other all along”. Far from it. But it’s relentlessly practical about how endings — or the anticipation of them — can breed new appreciations.

“The Other Way Around” is a refreshingly grown-up entry to a genre that seems to have got sillier and blander in recent years: in posing substantive questions about the nature of romance and relationships, it’s smarter than virtually any American studio romantic comedy of recent years. The American rom-com has been existentially threatened and, to compete, they’ve become more generic. (Compared to what we see now, “Long Shot” seems high concept.) Like “The Worst Person in The World”, The Other Way Around is an important reminder that there is a better way.  Audiences should like it. Filmmakers should watch it.

Grade: B

“The Other Way Around” had its world premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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