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In between the sheets and quirks of 'Americans in Bed'


By Grace Hamilton, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 3, 2013

HBO has successfully broken accepted boundaries again, pushing its nosy head into the realm of extreme privacy and the business of others and, in this case, finding its way into their beds.

The new documentary, “Americans in Bed,” is 81 minutes of interviews, featuring 10 couples of every sort imaginable. The cast might be the most colorful one on television: straight, gay, lesbian, old, young, overweight, Muslim, Catholic, innocent, cheaters, polygamists and probably everything in between. You name it, someone else thought of it too, making sure not to exclude them from this very candid and often charming exploration of relationships. “What are we looking for and how do we know when we’ve found it,” as one spouse puts it, seems to capture the focus of the film.

The audience is introduced to each new couple as they climb into bed, where the rest of the interview takes place. The footage bounces back and forth between the 10 couples, each contributing some version of the story of how they met, the nature of their sex lives, their opinions on marriage and — most importantly — revealing the idiosyncrasies that make their relationships unique.

Most sections of the interview are in a single shot, and the camera often lingers longer than what feels appropriate. Given the explicitness of content in popular culture today, the audience should be accustomed to these kinds of intimate displays. That being said, the reaction of listening to these couples talk about their love for each other is surprising: Even with all our exposure to naked bodies, sex on screen and the often powerful drama of fictional lives, the camera and the audience often feel intrusive.

Still, this discomfort only further contributes to the rawness of the film. It is personal to the point that the viewing experience almost mimics the intimacy that we are watching take place. On top of that, the film does not manipulate its subjects or their words into portraying a single message or one revolutionary answer to the meaning of love. It does not seek to justify its purpose as a creative work with such a solution, choosing instead to remain simple and straightforward. “Americans in Bed” lets the audience be the judge of such a purpose and the subjects, who often contradict each other, speak for themselves. This is extremely refreshing.

The major takeaway from the film is not particularly novel: sex and love mean different things for different relationships, which function in different ways, and that is okay. Though it seems obvious, in light of the flood of commentary on “healthy relationships” today, many people forget this.

The subjects help to remind the audience that it’s okay to be vocal about their insecurities and completely honest; “I thought it was terrible,” one partner said of his first time with the other, sitting directly next to him. These individuals represent real relationships, and these real people’s stories sound a lot more similar to our own than those in the Romantic Comedy section on Netflix or Taylor Swift songs. “Americans in Bed” reveals how love is pretty much never the magical “love at first sight,” and the audience should find these acknowledgements remarkably comforting.

Even in watching for a few minutes, these couples might help to affirm that your relationship is indeed normal after all and does not need fixing. And for the romantics out there, despite many of the unromantic details of relationships given attention by the film, on the whole, this is as tender as it gets.