We Want Our Money Back

By Ethan Mermelstein | Comedy
A couple breaks up and returns to their therapist to demand a refund.

A couple meets at a marriage therapist's office. But they're not getting counseling on any of their issues -- they've already done that. Despite their best efforts and paying their counselor hundreds of dollars to help them with their relationship, they are still estranged. And now they're demanding a refund for the money wasted trying to save their marriage.

Written and directed by Ethan Mermelstein (who also plays one of the lead roles), this quick-witted, punchy short comedy is rich with sharp banter and quicksilver performances that reflect the writing's terrific ear for irony. And though it's only six minutes long, it manages to traverse a great distance, finding a bridge between two partners who have become adversaries.

The narrative setup is simple, and the structure is one long scene between a small number of actors. Like many stories contained to a single location and scene, it's shot with a naturalistic intimacy that can be almost documentary-like in its efficiency.

But the pared-down visuals allow the writing to come to the fore, and the quick, sarcastic and sharp dialogue here reflects the unhappiness of the estranged couple. As the couple continues to argue and bicker, even as they try to unite to get a refund for their marriage counseling, we see the accumulations of slights create an atmosphere of malcontent that forms its own negative feedback loop.

Matched in wiry neuroticism and intelligence, actors Mermelstein and Sarah Steele both have a similar rhythm and tenor that hint at how the couple was drawn to each other. But clearly, those days are past, and their verbal sparring makes it easy to see how this couple have poked and prodded one another into irritation and estrangement.

Their demand for a refund is preposterously funny, especially when the therapist herself -- played with nonchalant aplomb by actor Bari Hyman -- seems nonplussed by their arguments. She firmly ignores their complaints and treats the meeting like another counseling session. But as the couple unites against the therapist, it reminds them just why they were together in the first place.

"We Want Our Money Back" finds great humor and irony in upending the prevalent gospel of what makes marriages work. Forget the six-second hug or kiss, the emphasis on even-tempered communication, daily appreciation or date nights. What makes this couple start to function again is... a shared sense of adversity, which sometimes may be enough to get this couple through a difficult stage in their relationship. It's a rough world out there, but it's nice to have someone you can rely on to kvetch with.

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