Dark comedies walk a fine line. If you handle the jokes poorly, your comedy can come across as mean-spirited, annoying, or worse, not funny. It takes a lot to make dark humor land, and obviously, only certain types of people will even find it funny. The Year Between has no qualms about being labeled as a dark comedy. Its main character is sarcastic and cynical and often takes joy in tearing people down. There have been plenty of great comedic characters like this, Blackadder being my personal favorite, but the catch is they still need to root for them and find them funny. Both of those elements are not present in The Year Between.
The Year Between fails spectacularly at being a dark comedy. The jokes are incredibly sporadic and even when something is supposed to be funny, it’s usually in poor taste. The film tries to have a message about mental health but fails so hard at it that there were several points where I was wondering why anyone would think these moments would be funny. Because they aren’t. At all.
The Year Between
Director: Alex Heller
Release Date: June 12, 2022 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Clemence (Alex Heller) has recently moved back in with her parents after she terrorizes everyone at her college. After seeing a therapist, she begins to act out after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She’s opted to mess with her parents, played by J. Cameron Smith and Steve Buscemi, until she decides to try and do something with her life and adapt to her new diagnosis. She attempts to get a job, help out her family, and support her siblings, but all the while she’s still bitingly cynical and tries to mask that her life is pretty miserable, all thing’s considered.
I don’t really know how to approach a character like Clemence. She’s played by the director, who herself has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so there’s an undeniable sense of authenticity here. I am not bipolar, but even with the little knowledge I have of mental health diagnoses, the stuff in The Year Between feels really uncomfortable to be framed as a comedy. Uncomfortable humor isn’t taboo in my mind, but there’s a limit to how much I can empathize with it.
Clemence, in the opening scene of the movie, harasses a bunch of people playing Quidditch, which did elicit a laugh, only to then terrorize her petrified roommate in a scene that definitely isn’t humorous. It’s one hell of an entrance, I’ll give her that, but it paints her immediately as being an unlikeable jerk. In theory, this is supposed to show her at her lowest point for us to later watch her grow, similar to other slacker comedies like Billy Madison. We need a reference point for where she’s starting and to show her character growth. We need to see how she adapts to life with her disorder and overcomes its limitations. Clemence does mature, but only after an hour of having every character tell her that she sucks and she either brushes them off or berates them to the point of tears.
Your enjoyment of The Year Between is going to depend heavily on how much you can tolerate Clemence. It has nothing to do if you like comedies or not. Even if you are looking at the film as a comedy, the humor is pretty weak. The brunt of the jokes comes from Clemence making snide remarks at fairly normal people and them acting aghast or getting pissed at her behavior. It’s not punching up at people who are ripe for satirizing or punching down at people that are weaker than her: it’s just punching. It’s her lashing out at everyone and we’re just expected to find it funny I guess.
Sometimes it is funny. I did laugh a bit after Clemence tried to make small talk with a neighbor but did not have any poop bags for her dog, so she needs to use a tiny receipt. It was a little joke, but it was a joke. What isn’t funny is Clemence trying to crack jokes after she attempts suicide and yells at her cancer-ridden mother, with her family trying to make light of it. The film tries to evoke outrage and act like an edgelord, bucking standards and good taste at shock humor, but there’s nothing really funny about attempted suicide. If you’re looking at the film as a dramedy it makes more sense, but it’s still not very well executed.
Alex Heller directed, produced, starred in, and wrote the film. I get the feeling that there wasn’t really anyone to try and steer her away from certain ideas or inform her that some ideas probably weren’t for the best. Given her Instagram, I don’t find her sense of humor funny, but that shouldn’t stop me from finding her work enjoyable. I can’t though. If The Year Between was meant to be some statement on mental health and living with bipolar disorder in 2022, then maybe I can understand it a bit? As a comedy, it fails gloriously, and as a drama, while I get what she was trying to go for, it’s too erratic and all over the place for me to call it anything other than a mess. It’s her feature debut though, so maybe some more refinement and other voices in the production will help improve her next film.