Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 23, 2004 8:43 am 
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Patrick Marber (I'm told) pared down his own play to essentials for the screen. One can give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the play was made better, if even nastier, by those "inessentials." Some critics say that. One -- the irascible Armond White -- calls Nichols "evil" for making the movie, and says it's just a British knockoff of Neil LaBute. Closer does show LaBute's low opinion of the relations between the sexes but Marber's four criss-crossing adulterers are simply fickle and valueless, rather than possessing the conscious cruelty of LaBute's males. Closer is indeed loathesome, but there's not much to loathe. What remains is the theatrical effect of dialogue that may have seemed clear on the London stage seven years ago but now sounds cliched, repetitive, and unreal.

The players are Dan (a weepy Jude Law, whose pretty face goes funny when he cries), Alice (a decorative Natalie Portman), Larry (Clive Owen, strongest of the four) and Anna (a pleasingly recessive Julia Roberts). The two ladies have been given US passports to connect with the Hollywood market. The whole production crosses the line from cool and abstract into simple fake. When successful photographers -- Anna is reputed to be one -- have shows in movies lately, their work looks like Avedon, superficially, that is, without the late portraitist's distinction. The result is easy to film but very generic. Unfortunately Julia Roberts and her handlers seem unaware that a handheld 35 mm. camera, whose image is not square, can be and usually is turned sideways for closeups of a face. They also ignore that a doctor's desk normally doesn't take up more space than his examination table. Or that an aspiring writer might not decide he's a "failed novelist" simply because his first book hasn't sold well. Somehow the scene in which Ms. Portman -- Alice -- plies trade (lap dancing in the private room of a strip house), though one of the most memorable moments in the movie, seems equally inauthentic: the place and Ms. Portman are too immaculate and perfect for such a situation. In short, there's nothing believable about the sanitized Avedon-esque backgrounds these Hollywooded versions of play characters are given.

It's hard to follow or care about the action. Dan meets Alice, "meets cute," as they say through the crude device of having him present when she's knocked down by a car. She never acquires an identity. We're supposed to believe that's because she doesn't like hers. Fair enough, but such people do have pasts. Later (we have no idea how much or little time has passed) Dan and Alice are living together. Dan gets his photo done by the famous Anna in connection with his book (nice going for a soon-to-be "failed novelist"), and he kisses her. She won't go out with him, so as revenge he tricks the promiscuous Larry into a cybersex date with her, which delights some viewers; I found it extremely unfunny, as well as unlikely. The joke backfires because Larry and Anna become a couple and eventually marry -- again, we don't know quite when. But Dan does finally lure Anna into an affair, and Anna breaks up with Larry. Alice breaks up with Dan, though he has lured her back and pleads with her and cries and cries this point one loses track and ceases to care.

What's so tedius about this play-turned-into-a-movie is not that it's all talk (so's Shakespeare, you might say), but because it's all nagging questions. The most flagrant examples are when Larry finds Alice at a strip club and keeps asking what her real name is, and when Larry learns from Anna about her affair with Dan and insists on being told every detail of their sex. If you want to see sexual questionaires done for a real purpose, go to see Kinsey.

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