DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
CLOSER (director: Mike Nichols; screenwriter: Patrick Marber/based on Mr. Marber's play; cinematographer: Stephen Goldblatt; editor: John Bloom/Antonia Van Drimmelen; cast: Natalie Portman (Alice Ayres), Jude Law (Dan), Julia Roberts (Anna), Clive Owen (Larry); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mike Nichols/John Calley/Cary Brokaw; Sony Pictures Entertainment/Columbia Tristar; 2004)

 
"Offers a cynical and pessimistic look at the ongoing Sexual Revolution."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mike Nichols ("The Graduate"/"Carnal Knowledge") directs a biting romantic drama for adults where words are as sharp as nails, much in the same light as his wolfish battle of the sexes in his adaptation of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" of 1966; but, unfortunately without the same glowing results. All the pessimistic chatter about relationships in "Virginia" hit a gusher, here the gusher is tempered by the characters own futility and lack of warmth. Their strategies to deceive and conquer the other grows wearisome when it seems that's all they are about. I felt turned off by the cloying Closer foursome whose obsession with sex, cheating, and disingenuous striving for truth and happiness seemed so distant. They are four pathetic and self-absorbed characters in search of controlling the other in a relationship. Though the script was cleverly executed, the acting by the ensemble cast superb, and the directing sharp, it never drew me into the dramatic fireworks since I never gave a damn about any of the characters. 

It's set in contemporary London, and based on the hit play by Patrick Marber. He is also around to do the screenplay.

Dan (Jude Law) is an aspiring London writer of literature who supports himself by writing obituaries for a newspaper. One day he witnesses a traffic accident involving Alice (Natalie Portman), a beautiful and flighty young American expatriate, who nearly gets seriously hit by a taxi as she's crossing the street. She instantly falls for Dan when he goes over to comfort her, and they soon afterwards become live-in lovers. When Dan's first book gets published, which was inspired by Alice's wild life, Anna (Julia Roberts) is the professional photographer hired to do the dust jacket of his book. Dan makes a play for the embittered but witty divorcee, whose Brit hubby left her for a younger gal, but manages only to get a hot sendoff kiss. Frustrated over his inability to hook up with her, Dan enters an Internet chat room and poses as Anna to a trolling Larry (Clive Owen). He's a very horny dermatologist, who is turned on by the sexy chatter and meets Anna the next day as arranged. The two soon sort out that a cyberprank has been played on them, but they turn Dan into a Cupid and marry. She does so despite loving Dan and not being that crazy about Larry. When Dan meets Anna again about a year later at her opening of a photography show, he begins a secret year-long affair with her. Things come to a climax when the cheaters decide to tell their mates about the affair and that they plan on marrying. Alice bolts from the pad and becomes an exotic dancer, while the more basic "caveman" Larry hammers hard at trying to keep his trophy wife at any cost. 

The battle centers around these habitual liars chagrined that they don't know what's the truth about their fragile relationships. The underlying message is a smug one: the truth hurts therefore learn to live without it. Each character is flawed and capable of venomous actions through their words, but how that's supposed to be charming never connected with me. Dan is filled with self-loathing and false sensitivity, Larry is primitive and possessive. While the ball busting Anna is selfish and confused, and Alice is girlish, uncultured and insecure. "Closer" offers a cynical and pessimistic look at the ongoing Sexual Revolution fall-outs among these yuppies, as their littered bodies are strewn across both sides of the Atlantic in their pursuit of pleasure. It reminds one of the early days of the 1960 Revolution, a time when Nichols had his finger on the pulse of things and could deliver such a sardonic tale of woe in good spirit. But now it seems empty of anything subversive and more like a middlebrow cry of release from any more shocks about sex and a retreating call for blind trust in relationships (perhaps, to serve something like faith does for the so-called true believers of religion).

REVIEWED ON 4/6/2005        GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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