labors: Lane and Gere in Unfaithful.
the Wrong Bedroom
by Adrian Lyne
Adrian Lyne directing, you just know that Unfaithful
will be punctuated with scenes of wild sex, dreamily shot
amid backdrops that are oh-so glamorous, even if in a shabby-chic
sort of way. What you don’t know, and what surprises, is how,
er, meaty this movie is, and how much more deeply and soberly
it cuts across the idea of sex-as-casual-hobby—as something
no more earth- rattling, potentially dangerous or destined
to muck up your happy home than, say, switching from regular
Constance Sumner (Diane Lane), a Westchester housewife in
her late 30s, putters between managing her nifty suburban
home, playing mom to 9-year-old Charlie, and doing volunteer
work for his school. Husband Edward (Richard Gere) operates
some kind of trucking conglomerate and, be it at home or in
the office, spends much of his time engrossed in paperwork.
Uh-oh. . . .
Sparks fly when Connie literally blows into French book dealer
Paul (Olivier Martinez), and before long, she is commuting
almost daily to the city to stoke the fires of her new consuming
passion. Of course, Edward soon figures something’s screwy:
He makes the completely unbelievable observation (for most
American men, that is) that, suddenly, his wife is buying
a lot of new undies, spending inordinate amounts of time bubble-bathing,
and burning dinner. He hires an investigator and soon has
proof positive, in the form of several black-and-white photos,
that Connie is, indeed, unfaithful.
What happens next harkens to the explosive climax of In
the Bedroom, and as in that movie, the actions are believable,
in the way they express a character’s consuming rage, and
fantastic, in the way they cause the viewer to only hope that
he or she would never cross that particular line. But Lyne
is a master at revealing the thin line that separates movie
characters from supposedly rational folk like his audience.
While touted by some as a mystery, Unfaithful in actuality
is a serious examination of just what happens to a relationship
when one partner takes that step into the forbidden. No matter
if Edward and Connie are at the point at which they barely
converse, except for the rudimentaries of “how was your day,”
and inquiries about Charlie’s life. Their even keel is irreversibly
tilted by Connie’s affair and its aftermath.
Some critics, most noticeably Jessica Winter of The Village
Voice, have called Unfaithful Lyne’s tribute to
the Alliance for Marriage. I think that’s being ridiculously
simplistic, not to mention insulting to anybody for whom marriage
involves any questioning, however occasional, or reexamination
of what the relationship is supposed to be like as it evolves
over time. Too often, movies depict affairs as just something
mom or dad did, like that summer one of them took up waterskiing,
and with about that level of emotional impact on the household.
What’s particularly refreshing about Unfaithful is
how it deals squarely with the fact that an affair can have
devastating repercussions. So what if at times we can’t help
but think how convenient it is for Connie to have that 24-7
housekeeper/ babysitter, or wonder if the NYPD has forgotten
about fingerprinting and DNA testing? The trappings of melodrama
and crime story aside, Unfaithful dares to take us
onto that questionable moral ground that demands we take stock
and figure out what matters, even if that comes without the
bells and whistles of high passion. In a weird yet exhilarating
sense, Unfaithful concludes on a note much more reminiscent
of the best film noir, in which feelings and expectations
are turned upside down, and morality is something much more
complex than that which we learned in Sunday School.
by Todd Solondz
Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness)
has established himself as a filmmaker as distinctive and
disturbing as David Lynch. While Lynch uses elements of the
fantastic to create his peculiar vision, Solondz prefers the
mundane milieu of the white, suburban middle class.
is divided into two parts. The first, and shorter section
of the film is “Fiction.” The setting is a college creative-writing
course taught by a Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American
novelist, Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom). Coolly dismissive of
his students’ work, Scott doesn’t mince words with them. When
one named Vi (Selma Blair) meets him by accident in a bar,
she asks if she has any future as a writer. “No,” he replies
quietly and bluntly. She goes home with him. The result is
a traumatic sexual encounter that she promptly turns into
a story for the class, with predictably brutal, unintended
The remainder of the film is “Nonfiction,” the story of neophyte
documentary filmmaker Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti), and his
attempt to turn the life of hapless Scooby Livingston (Mark
Webber), a high school senior in suburban New Jersey, into
a coherent film about “high schools after Columbine.” Scooby
has no goals, no passions, and no plans. His fantasies are
comically banal: He imagines his parents dying while begging
his forgiveness, and dreams of himself as a late-night talk-show
host. His parents, Marty (John Goodman) and Fern (Julie Hagerty),
worry that he might be gay, while his football-playing brother,
Brady (Noah Fleiss), worries that Scooby’s weird behavior
is ruining his own reputation as a “cool” kid.
Just as the opening scenes of Mulholland Dr., with
their glossy textures, shocking violence and overwhelming
paranoia were unmistakably Lynchian, Storytelling begins
with a sexual coupling only Todd Solondz would dare, between
a pink-haired coed and her disabled boyfriend. Sex involving
someone with cerebral palsy is presented as no big deal; yet,
we know it is because we’ve hardly ever seen it before on
screen. (The differently abled may have children, as with
Sean Penn’s character in the recent I Am Sam, but the
manner in which they are often presented makes the stork seem
the most likely source of their offspring.) The criticism
of Solondz is that scenes like this are exploitative, especially
when placed in the context of his stories, which are about
characters ranging from the neurotic to the perverted. Like
Lynch, Solondz has been accused of being grotesque simply
for the sake of shocking the audience.
In Storytelling, the writer-director seems to be replying
to this criticism. The saga of the student and the professor
may be his defense of presenting episodes of extreme cruelty.
It admirably avoids being exploitative by its careful calibrations
of class, race, and ironic view of “truth.” The main part
of the film is more deceptive. At first it seems to be Toby’s
story, but it’s really about storytelling itself. Toby’s a
loser, but his commercial instincts prove to be true. He really
does fashion a crowd-pleasing film, but does so at the expense
of what’s going on in his subjects’ lives. It’s as if Solondz
is saying, “You think I’m shallow, here’s a really shallow
The film makes its points, and is also quite entertaining.
It has some familiar Solondz bits, such as making the most
monstrous creature a precocious little kid, and giving a main
character exactly what he dreams of, without the satisfaction
the character anticipated. The performances are uniformly
good, including a couple of entertaining cameos by Steve Railsback
(as a jaded high school principle) and Franka Potente (as
a film editor with a conscience). If it isn’t exactly a feel-good
movie, it has a clarity of thought behind it that is bracing.
the Old Dudes
by Fred Schepisi
This sentimental look back at the life of one man and his
loyal friends shouldn’t play as well as it does. The source
novel (by Graham Swift) may have been a prizewinner in England,
but it isn’t exactly packed with narrative surprises or striking
characters. English working-class blokes live and love through
the last century, surviving its wars and tumultuous social
changes with pluck and heart. This isn’t new territory, but
the film manages to make it fresh and engaging nonetheless.
Jack Dodds (Michael Caine) is dead and cremated, and his friends
are going to honor his “last orders” by scattering his ashes
into the sea. There is Vic (Tom Courtenay) the undertaker;
Lenny (David Hemmings) the former boxer; Ray (Bob Hoskins)
the horse player; and Jack’s son Vince (Ray Winstone), a car
dealer. It’s a long drive to the coast from London, offering
the men the chance to share their memories of the man who
brought them together.
Notably absent from the journey is Jack’s widow, Amy (Helen
Mirren). She is instead on her weekly pilgrimage to visit
June, the severely disabled daughter Jack refused to acknowledge.
This turns out to have been the core problem in their marriage;
the lingering bitterness of which is manifested in revealing
and unexpected ways.
The acting is uniformly excellent. It may seem tiresome to
read the praises of English actors, but it’s unavoidable.
It isn’t just the quality of the individual performances,
but the appealing manner in which the actors work together.
There is a problem in some of the flashbacks, as no amount
of makeup or bad fake hair could make David Hemmings or Tom
Courtenay appear even 20 years younger—but even if they don’t
look the part, they at least act it convincingly.
The film is structured as a series of flashbacks, varying
in length from long, elaborate scenes to brief flashes that
last only few seconds on screen. Director Fred Schepisi, who
also wrote the script, does a masterful job of integrating
the time shifts smoothly into the film. The flashbacks never
confuse, and consistently illuminate.
The film’s only notable fault lies with its portrayal of Jack.
We are told a number of times, primarily by his wife, of Jack’s
cold, dark side. But it is dramatized only once, in one of
the flashbacks, with a younger actor playing Jack. (Even this
scene isn’t totally unflattering.) Michael Caine’s Jack is
written for sympathy, whether as the good-time companion of
the pub, or when he is the man left behind by the times and
rejected by his son. In contrast, Vince is given a fascinating
depth, a mix of pride, selfishness, rage, alienation, and
love that provides Winstone the opportunity to give the film’s
most intriguing performance. Caine, however, is given slight
chance to use the full range of his talent.
Comparatively, however, this is a minor problem. In the end,
the film isn’t really about Jack, but rather the people who
loved him. The pleasure given by the performances and the
skill in the direction is such that even such small complaints