Producer and director Philippa Robinson brings her British in Bed candid interviews to the United States with a similar documentary: Americans in Bed. From the comfort of their beds, these 10 "average American" couples describe every aspect of their relationships, from their sexual chemistry to their shared values and interests.
The interviews themselves are unique compared to standard interview question and response because from their beds, you see couples interact in a way you might not if they were in their living room. The first major difference is that they're in their pajamas — most of the men were shirtless and a majority of the women were in silk negligees. They're also in bed, arguably the focal point of their marriages, where they have alone time as a couple (sleeping or otherwise).
The progression of the documentary is fascinating as it switches between couples as they ease into the same topics. The first is when and how they make time to be alone together — for middle-aged Joe and Patty, it's a matter of getting the kids in bed and ignoring the dog whimpering at the bedroom door, while for young Leon and Blanca, it's a matter of finding time to do anything else.
Across sexualities, races, ethnicities, and religions, the couples have differing opinions on jealousy, on sacrifice, and on giving the other attention, which itself reveals the cracks in the relationships as partners disagree. Everyone agrees on one thing: an obvious shared attraction. Linda said that on her first date with Margie, she found Margie irresistible and couldn't wait to kiss her. Yasmin remembers her first night with Mohamed with a smile.
But the relationships also all share a more surprising inherent inequality between the partners. Julie feels she gave up her career for Randy to have their family, but he feels that she made that decision on her own because she was tired of the lifestyle. Farid pushes George, on why George doesn't say, "I love you" as often as Farid feels he tells George. And Helen said that she never denied husband Red sex in the 71 years they had been married, possibly implying that sex was not primarily for her own pleasure.
Overall, the documentary is a quirky social experiment delving into and in between relationships as the viewer gets to know the couples and can watch as a partner reacts to their mate. Margie wipes away tears as she says how she feels that Linda completes her; Fatima is brought to tears remembering the time she found explicit texts to other women on Kevin's phone.
However, although the ten couples provide a healthy dose of diversity, the types of topics addressed and the people represented can lean towards the side of cliché in the place of novelty. It's almost as if the producers checked off boxes: black, Latino, gay, lesbian, polygamous, Muslim, elderly, and middle-class white. It would have been difficult to use more couples given the time necessary to allocate to each to understand them, but the cookie-cutter diversity was ironically the blandest part of the movie. Women are women; men are men. The behavior of the differences in the sexes was to be expected: for example, the women were on the whole more talkative, and one husband only even said about ten words in their interview.
The documentary should have had questions about who makes the financial decisions at home, how their families interact, what challenges their marriages have faced, what was different about marriage than they had expected, and what they wanted to improve in their relationship. Many of the topics discussed were self-evident; I'd be surprised if any person was complacent to their partner sending sexual photos to other people or if anyone enjoyed engaging in sexual acts with a dog barking in the same room.
Americans in Bed stands out because of its style, not its content — however, it's still worth watching this fall if for no other reason than an oft-needed reminder to be introspective and learn how your behavior or attitudes affect those around you and what that might mean for your own relationships.