November 24th, 2017 - Review by Mark Schwab
Before the landmark Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage across the nation, legally married gay couples could find themselves in some thorny legal weeds. Especially when you had marriage equality in one state while another was passing special constitutional amendments specifically banning that basic equality. It is one of those same-sex legal briar patches that forms the basis for writer/director Jim Fields' feature film LIFE AFTER EX.
Set in the time right before nationwide same-sex marriage laws, Dylan Holm (Nicklaus Knipe) and his partner drive from Nebraska to Iowa (one of the states where it was legal) so they could legally marry. Shortly thereafter though, Dylan's partner turns into a drug-addicted, embezzling monster. Dylan gets kicked out, moves back home and begins the divorce proceedings but there's a problem - since Nebraska didn't recognize their Iowa same-sex marriage, Dylan can't get legally divorced. At least not right away. The only solution according to Dylan's lawyer is for him to move to Iowa and establish residency for one year. Only then could he begin divorce proceedings. So Dylan packs up his car and heads to the Hawkeye state where he makes new friends, new bedmates and a new life.
This is a very good premise for an LGBT film highlighting the stupid inequities that gay couples faced before the high court's decision. It opens up a number of possibilities for our lead character being a stranger in a strange land having to rebuild his life and his heart after a painful end to his long-term relationship. It's also pretty universal as most of us - gay and straight - have experienced a break up and even having to move somewhere to start a new life. Director Fields knows this and works hard to keep his narrative refreshingly free of stereotypes, exploitive sex and angry bitchy characterizations.
Unfortunately, it also makes LIFE AFTER EX very "safe" with the story and characters behaving exactly as you'd expect and the ending can be guessed at about the 20 minute mark in the film. There is no suspense about any of the outcomes with most of the performances and scene set-ups I would charitably describe as "inconsistent".
Maybe it's the holidays but this film did catch me in the right mood to watch it. It breezes by with none of the scenes being annoying or slow. It looks great too with most (if not all) of the film being shot on some very nice locations in Omaha, Nebraska along with a great sound mix (boy does that make a difference in watching an indie film!). As for the lead character Dylan, Nicklaus Knipe is so darn likable you just want to wrap him in a Snuggie, kiss his forehead and place him on the mantle over the fireplace - you can't help but want him to "win" in the end (no bonus points for guessing if he does). The rest of the cast is also likable and diverse, overcoming the occasionally stilted line readings.
I think the most important reason to seek out LIFE AFTER EX is that its message and vibe is a positive one - that love can win in the end and to keep your heart open instead of shrinking it 2 sizes too small. Give yourself over to its 81 or so minutes - it's time well-enough spent that will leave you with a huggable grin on your face.
You can learn a lot more about the film HERE.