Monday, March 26, 2007


Closer. I learned from this movie that there are a total of four people living in London, England, and two of them are American transplants. They are all sleeping with -- er, "shagging" -- each other at various times, breaking up, making up, taking up where they left off, waking up alone or next to one or the other... it's very confusing.

Have you ever actually seen a deer in the headlights? Me neither. But I have seen a good number of Natalie Portman movies, so I've become accustomed to using the phrase. I believe the deer (plural) may have the basis of a class action suit for defamation of character.

Was she ruined by the experience of standing in front of blue screens reciting George Lucas' portentous exposition to robots for five years, or was she always on this path?

She needs to throw away the text, and just play the scene. In a movie like this, which is 90 percent dialogue with actual living breathing actors in the room with her, she needs to be able to react in a naturalistic manner.

This movie begins with Natalie Portman's character, who may or may not be named Alice, stepping into the rabbit hole street, freezing like a ... um, some kind of animal, and getting hit by a taxi. So far, so good.

She turns her trip to the emergency room into an extended flirtation with a gobsmacked Jude Law. Now, in England they have socialized socialised medicine, but I'm pretty sure you still have to provide your name to the hospital when you're waiting in the emergency room. This comes into play because of the ludicrous and unnecessary final scene in which a heartbroken Jude Law learns that Natalie Portman's character might not have been named Alice after all, but was in fact Keyser Soze. Or something.

Anyway, as if Portman and Law didn't Meet Cute enough, the other two inhabitants of The Smoke, Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, have a first encounter that will put you off fish (and chips) for a month. Poor Clive spends the next hour turning into various shades of schmuck-dom, then (mostly) back out again, and interrogating America's Sweetheart about her sex li(f)e with language that would get you kicked out of any junior high school in America. Really, if you want to see Julia Roberts describing recently-performed sex acts in graphic detail in, shall we say, the popular vernacular, this is the movie for you.

"Yuppie," of course, means Young Urban Professional. The Professions of these Young Urban characters are all highly significant, dramatically speaking. Clive Owen is a dermatologist who gets under the skin of the other characters. Julia Roberts is a photographer who captures (exploits?) the sadness of other people, but cannot recognize her own. Natalie Portman is a stripper who reveals her body but never herself, including her identity. When she's shacked up with a deceitful Jude Law in ignorant domestic bliss, she cuts her hair and washes the color out of it and gets a job in a cafe, where some guy says, "Hey waitress, what are you waiting for?" (Get it?) Jude Law, whose character is first among equals in this story, writes obituaries for a newspaper. This is the basis for a series of cheap jokes, but he's also a novelist, at first aspiring, then failed; he has the whole story laid out in his head, but fails in both art and life to successfully render the details or construct a happy ending.

So what does it all mean? Well, not as much as it would like. "Closer" than what, exactly? There's a suggestion, put forth mainly via an early online chat session between two of the characters, that Modern Life Is Rubbish, or something, and that we have lost the Art of Intimacy, if not Romance. Certainly the, ah, colorful language employed by these socially ambitious Brits and Yanks attests to a certain coarsening of the lexicon of love. But if the message is Only Connect, isn't that a bit undermined by a movie that -- I'll say it again -- shows a London that contains a total of four people, who just happen to keep running into each other over a period of years? I hate to keep harping on it, but it had to be intentional. Compared to this, the London of 28 Days Later was a bustling metropolis. OK, a lot of the characters in that movie were zombies. But this one had Natalie Portman.

Stop The War.

1 comment:

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