Redefining marriage, monogamy and love

Will not-so-newlyweds Collette and Allen figure out how to live together? Photo courtesy of the filmmakers

Documentary tells tale of romance threatened by cohabitation


Unlike most couples, when husband and wife Allen J. Sheinman and Collette Stallone finally moved in together, it wasn’t into the same bedroom. “He’s gonna stay in his room the weeknights. On Friday, Saturday and maybe Sunday, he can come into my room,” says Collette of their new arrangement. She has dibs on the bedroom. Allen’s room: the former living room.

Meet Allen: “I’m 59 years old, and I’m a Libra.” And meet Collette: “I’m 55 years old, and I’m a New Yorker. I like corned beef. I like an egg cream.” The two are “trying the experiment in cohabitating,” as Allen puts it. And in Tom and Jim Isler’s short film “Two’s a Crowd,” this experiment is observed, documented and reported.

If you find that odd, then this film is sure to overturn your entire notion of what marriage, monogamy and love can look like. The couple had been married for more than four years (and together for nine) when they finally took the plunge into cohabitation.

Before that, they were happy to live separately (Collette in her one-bedroom in the Village and Allen in his studio apartment in Chelsea). They married late in life — and besides, cohabitation just doesn’t seem to be their style. Collette explains, “When you’re young, you go ‘Oh, we’re so in love, oh!’ Now, it’s like, listen: I love you, but you need your space. I need my space.” Of their arrangement, she adds, “I say it’s great. I go home when I want. I do what I want. I don’t have to do his laundry!”

But when paying rent for two apartments is no longer within reason, they finally decide to take the plunge, living together in Collette’s rent-stabilized apartment.

Will the experiment result in a gruesome fallout between folks who just need their own territory, or will they figure out how to share the space? Collette’s not so sure, even about the smallest matters. “Sharing newspapers — are you kidding? It could break up a marriage, how you read a newspaper! Separate newspapers,” she declares.

Both Allen and Collette are quirky and vivacious. Their relationship is intriguing, and truly delightful to witness. That’s where brothers Tom and Jim Isler come into play.

Back when Tom worked at “Meetings & Conventions” magazine, Allen was his managing editor. Even before hearing the couple’s story, Tom was intrigued by Allen’s disposition. “Allen was an extremely witty guy who seemed destined for the big screen. I knew he’d be a great character for a documentary. I just needed some narrative frame to put him in, some excuse to tell a story about him,” Tom says. “For years before we actually made the film, I used to joke with him that I’d like to make a movie about him someday, but only if he moved in with his wife. At the time, we never thought that day would come.”

But then, in October of 2009, it did.

Tom, 29, and Jim, 32, have a long history of collaborative filmmaking, going all the way back to when they were kids. For this most recent project of theirs, the brothers shot, edited and directed as a team, and “did basically all of the work.” The result is a terrifically fun 20 minutes.

The final portion of the film revisits Collette and Allen close to five months after their big move. To their own surprise, the couple has managed to survive the experiment (they’re even happy in it). “Now we know that everyone else had it right,” Collette remarks. “I wouldn’t go that far,” says Allen — who points out that they’re still not doing marriage “the way most people do it.”

Tom says he hopes, in the end, “that the film forces audiences to question assumptions they hold about what marriage is, and how couples are supposed to act.” It’s “a reminder,” he says, “that marriage is intensely personal and hyper-specific to the individuals involved.”

For Allen and Collette, the art of cohabitation boils down to having their own spaces (“the fallback of a personal sanctuary,” as Isler calls it). Of course, they also enjoy one another’s company. As Allen says, “If I were just in this for being apart, I don’t think I’d go through the effort. I could do that on my own.”

As the film comes to a close, the couple prepares for bed on a typical evening, exchanging shouts of “Love ya’ hun!” and “Good night!” across the apartment as each flicks off their own bedroom light.

Directed by Tom and Jim Isler
At the New York City International Film Festival
Wed., Aug. 24, 6pm
At the Abingdon Theatre (312 W. 36th St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.)
For tickets ($5), visit nyciff.com
For info, visit gloamingpictures.com