Magazine article The Christian Century

Looking for Love

Magazine article The Christian Century

Looking for Love

Article excerpt

PURPORTING TO deliver the straight goods on modern sexual interactions, Closer is glossier than last summer's similarly themed We Don't Live Here Anymore, and it has a more impressive pedigree--an award-winning director (Mike Nichols), a highly acclaimed British stage play (by Patrick Marber) for its source, and a glamorous cast: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. It has Oscar nominations written all over it. But it contains barely a convincing moment.

Roberts plays an American photographer living in London who shoots the bookjacket picture for Law's first novel; he makes a play for her, but when she learns he has a live-in girl friend (Portman), she resists her attraction to him. She winds up with Owen's character instead, but the night her gallery show opens, she and the novelist initiate an affair that eventually devastates both their households. (In We Don't Live Here Anymore, the two couples swap partners.)

Films like these operate by a kind of emotional extortion: if you don't accept their vision of the world, they say, then you must be afraid to confront hard realities. But it's hard to buy the premises of this narrative. Law meets Owen in a sex chat room on the Internet. Pretending to be a woman--and using Roberts's name--he arranges an assignation in the London Aquarium, a locale Roberts frequents to find subjects for her photos. The movie never explains why Law is posing as a woman in a chat room, and there is no reason for him to set up this beautiful woman he's just been entranced by.

The film has American Beauty-style plotting, devising flashy but implausible twists that, under scrutiny, turn out to be just excuses for the next plot turn. In American Beauty, there was no reason to believe that the Kevin Spacey character would get a job at a fast-food joint or work out naked in his garage, but if he didn't do the first, he wouldn't see his wife drive by with her lover, and if he didn't do the second, the closeted gay marine next door couldn't spy on him. In Closer, if Owen weren't under the misapprehension that he'd been targeted by Roberts for an afternoon of anonymous sex, then he wouldn't try to hook up with her at the aquarium, and they wouldn't be married six months later.

The shocking details--the comfortable exec who goes to work at a Burger King, the chat-room ruse--are supposed to signal that the movies are in tune with the subterranean rhythms of contemporary life. …

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