Monday, October 01, 2007

NYFF: Patty, Will You Marry Me?

From the 45th Annual New York Film Festival (Sept 28th thru Oct 14th)

<--- I am in love with Patty Clarkson. I've declared this fondness before... albeit in a more platonic professional fashion. But my suddenly matrimonial intent was not a solitary one in the Walter Reade theater last week. The entire audience @ her new film Married Life was eating out of her hand. She was all flirtation and humility while working that crowd during the Q & A that followed. Boy does that woman spark. [My favorite moment: she affectionately referred to her character as "a deep redheaded ladygirl." Emphasis hers.]

Life director Ira Sachs, who hogged most of the questions, said he wanted to show Patty in a new light in this film and he does: There's one particularly fresh scene with Ms. Clarkson in lingerie that'll make you envious of her scene partner. She plays a grandmother but da-amn. But, anyway, the movie...

Married Life
opens on one of those kitschy illustration-filled title sequences. It's essentially suggesting that you're about to view a comedy. The narration by "Richard" (Pierce Brosnan), is of the serious but winking variety of running commentaries. It suggests that you're watching a noir or a black comedy. Yet the movie that unspools is neither of those and more things too: a treatise on coupling, a melodrama, a bedroom farce. I shan't spoil the story's twists for you but the comic premise itself is known: Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) has fallen in love with a young woman Kay (Rachel McAdams) and decides to spare his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson) the pain of divorce by murdering her.

I'm all for tonal mishmashes if they work but Married Life doesn't. In a period film that doesn't open up much (it's based on a book but you're forgiven if you assume it was a play) you're left with only the actors to sell the material. Despite their collective talent (considerable) the effort shows. Chris Cooper has the most to work with and acquits himself well though his interpretation is so serious that it tilts the movie far into sober drama.

Maybe that's the intent since Rachel McAdams also goes for a portrait of deep hurt. This Canadian actress is the one that everyone wants to crown as the newest bonafide movie star but in this film she only continues her stardom avoidance tour. She's quite good at hinting at unexplored depths but the movie seems mostly interested in her beauty and its ability to hold the frame.

Patricia Clarkson, always a joy to watch, is assigned whatever levity this quiet serious film can muster. Unfortunately, "Pat" is the character that makes the least sense in retrospect as more and more of the story becomes known. It's as if the earlier scenes are purposely obscuring the story rather than playing as organic parts of the whole. Married Life ends with a dinner party but the dish it's serving up smells weird. There are tasty ingredients but this movie is a clash of flavors. C


Glenn Dunks said...

Surely the crown of annointed one has bypassed McAdams and gone directly to Anne Hathaway. She just keeps hitting hits (Becoming Jane wasn't that good but it made a pretty penny around the world) while McAdams just... ugh. Even Gosling made that silly-looking movie with Anthony Hopkins.

Anyway, Patty. Who doesn't love her?

gabrieloak said...

I enjoyed the performances of Cooper, Clarkson, and particularly Brosnan in Married Life. Brosnan is wonderful playing a cad. I agree that McAdams was the weakest of the four major roles in the film but I did believe that both men would be attracted to her. After watching quite a few artsy and very serious films in Toronto, I found Married Life a breath of fresh air and I thought Sachs did something very interesting and entertaining with his adaptation of a pulp novel.