by Hope Madden
In 1968 (and again in 2005), the true romance of Helen North and Frank Beardsley charmed (and likely terrified) cinema audiences. North, a mother of 10 (!) wed Beardsley, a father of 8. The blending of the two families led to, well, just under two hours of hijinks.
And that was without bondage gear.
With They/Them/Us, co-writer/director Jon Sherman revisits the difficulties of combining families and the pain of new relationships, finding the pleasure in both.
Joey Slotnick (veteran TV/movie “that guy”) is Charlie, newly single dad in Columbus. His teenage kids blame him for their broken home, his new job at Ohio’s Christian university is a weird fit, but dating is working out surprisingly well. In fact, Charlie and Lisa (Homeland‘s Amy Hargreaves) fall for each other in record time and move in together almost as quickly.
So far so garden-variety, right? Nope. Because Sherman hasn’t crafted your simple dysfunctional family comedy—no Instant Family or Bad Moms or Daddy’s Home. They/Them/Us takes the tried-and-true tumult of family dynamics and blends it with a sex romp to create an unexpected take on modern parenting.
Lisa, you see, is a bit of a dominatrix. And Charlie is, well, he is willing to learn.
Slotnick’s an endearing mess of neurosis, guilt and naivete. Hargreaves’s performance is earnest and vulnerable, and the two together create a surprisingly sweet bond. Their teen support – especially Jack Steiner as Charlie’s stoner son Danny, and Lexie Bean as Lisa’s woebegone nonbinary child Maddie — fills scenes with laughter and heart.
Stakes never feel especially high and resolutions are not particularly hard won, but Sherman and co-writer/life partner Melissa Vogley Woods — both writing from experience — craft a tender, witty tale of life, love and kink in Columbus.