Touted as a sexy and provocative drama, this ensemble piece strains the
attention span as two couples, each with kids, do a musical chairs study in
adultery. The actors are seriously exploring how to make it fresh and
meaningful, but the writing binds them to the prosaic as it focuses on sex,
confusion and adaptive values.
It's so not fresh that if we haven't seen it lately on the screen, chances
are we know a couple or two who are similarly unhappy and floundering in a
sea of bad choices.
Terry Linden (Laura Dern) is the most wronged one here since it's hubby Jack
(Mark Ruffalo) who is stepping out on her with close friend Edith Evans.
Edith's husband Hank (Peter Krause) doesn't seem quite as victimized by the
infidelity because his marriage doesn't appear to be as close a match, but
that distinction can be argued. Both couples have kids; the kids seem
normal, loved and well brought up.
We don't know exactly why Jack has lost interest in Terry but the best
guesses might have something to do with her household sloppiness and general
lack of personality. There is also the possibility that it's a purely
hormonal intoxication with Edith, the fox of the group, no contest. Despite
the steam that's building between the two-households, stopping well short of
actual wife-swapping, they maintain the appearance of New England harmony by
jogging and watching TV together.
The combustible situation is more an emotive outing for an ensemble cast than
it is a smart vehicle for insights into marriage and desire. When truth rears
its ugly head, and motivations are exposed, the issues are joined head on but
the dialogue seems more contrived than visceral and the tale wanders deeper
into a sort of "hip" superficiality. A somewhat sidelined issue with
potential traction is the negative effect unfaithful parents have on their
children, but their sense of helplessness because of adulterous conduct
doesn't get much focus.
Nevertheless, the performances by the young cast of Sam Charles, Haili Page,
and Jennifer Bishop stand out as the most honest. But the people who voted
this a screenwriting award (at Sundance) need to have their pathos meters
readjusted as well as their tendency to read more meaning into a film than
the film itself provides. The exemplary actors need to find better material
and less tiresome minds at the helm than those provided by director John
Curran and writer Larry Gross who adapted from two Andre Dubus short stories.
A more successful adaptation from a Dubus story was "In the Bedroom."
~~ Jules Brenner