December 21, 2004

Dan & Anna & Larry & Alice Get Closer

Pretty people have problems too.

by JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor

Closer (2004) Rated R, 98 minutes 4 stars out of 5

When the Beatles sing "Baby, You're a Rich Man", the first line asks "How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?". That reminds me of Closer, the new Mike Nichols film about love and relationships between four people. Every single character in this film, down to strangers and hobos on the street, is bee-yutiful. Even their physical flaws are more attractive than the most beautiful non-movie-person's most beautiful feature.

So why is it their lives are a total disaster compared to mine? I don't have a girlfriend or a wife, I don't sleep around (I sleep straight), and I don't look like Jude Law or Clive Owen (or Julia Roberts or Natalie Portman, for that matter). Yet somehow, we're asked to

admire, or at least empathize with these rich, beautiful characters whose problems (every single one of them) stem from sexual trysts. With demolishing certainty, relationships cave and crumble as each of the four characters attempts to reach some sort of stability in the choices they have made, in the routes they have, knowingly or unknowingly, mapped out for themselves.

It's a tough row to hoe, and consequences are erraticly parceled out for the audience to muddle through. Motivations for actions and reactions are never easy or simple in real life. Patrick Marber's script, based on his original play, resists the "easy way out" (the bane of most relationship-oriented films), feeling out each character's inner and outer struggles, never arriving at a clean-cut conclusion. This is a film that leaves a number of issues unsatisfyingly incomplete, though not unresolved.

Closer is a film that seems like it should be "deeper" than it is. With the varieties of "love" each of the characters trots out as part of their playbook of relationships, you would expect the plot to be more densely woven, yet it unfolds more like loosely constructed origami.

Dan (Law) is an obituary writer who meets and falls in love with Alice (Portman) after she is run down by a cab in London. Four months later, he has written a book about her and is being photographed by Anna (Roberts), who has recently left her husband.

Dan and Anna flirt; Anna rebuffs him, but the thought is tempting. Fast forward a year, and Dan and Anna have been having an affair which she has just broken off because she is now married to Larry (Owen), who met Anna because of an amusing Internet sex chat prank perpetrated by Dan. Larry's confession that he has slept with someone whilst away at a conference sets up the most explosive scene, where Anna tells Larry she has been cheating with Dan and that she's leaving the marriage. Larry's rage explodes; he demands the details of Anna's intimate moments with Dan, culminating in Anna's brutal statement: "He tastes like you, only sweeter."

Larry is the only character of the four who exhibits neither premeditation nor agenda. He is an animal of instinct and desire, and demands honesty and fidelity with no strings. His love is as true as his anger, but even this dissolves, as Larry engineers dramatic events, to dire consequence.

Things spiral further. Dan has confessed to Alice that he and Anna have been having an affair. Alice wonders why, when Dan knows in his heart that no one will ever love him as completely as she does. Dan cannot give her any explanation--to him, falling in love is accidental, like falling into a well.

Like Larry, Alice is also honest, though not without a well of hidden insecurities and secrets that belies her career as a stripper. After Alice leaves Dan, Larry finds her in a club; the two are drawn to each other. Larry's ferocity plays well here, shown against the glitzy backdrop of the strip club and Alice's business-like attitude toward him as a customer.

Roberts is surprisingly low-key as Anna; she is a woman who cannot bear to be happy because it makes her feel guilty. Fear and anxiety drive her life; her life is structureless and without boundary. She is a void of humanity.

To delve too much more into the story would give away the game. Suffice to say, the ending is a dismal, yet not unexpected appraisal of the story of human relationships. Four people, caught up in their own lusts and passions, desires and anxieties, insecurities and infidelities, discover that love simply is not enough.

The four are, by relationships standards, execable people, whose personal desires outweigh simple human decency and compassion. Dan is a cad, Anna a flake, Larry a human timebomb, and Alice is a prole. The characteristics of humanity we often search for in movie characters have all been replaced by the selfish desire of...well, reality. Marber's script accurately reflects a world of real people whose understanding and respect for love and others is a product of imagination and fantasy. In this sense, Closer is depressingly real as well as depressingly ugly.

My only complaint, really, is the beauty factor. Each of the characters is as stylish and worldly as one can get; their fashion sense and lifestyles reflect a glossy magazine mentality that saturates Hollywood productions and makes a lie, if a tiny one, out of the well-written script and its approximation of the current human condition. Ultimately, one gets the feeling that this is just a film that shows the despicable acts rich, talented, and beautiful people do to each other in pursuit of this thing called love.

Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe reviews films both at his site and American Digest. Lewis can be reached directly at

Posted by Vanderleun at December 21, 2004 9:47 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Well. That just saved me $15 in movie tickets. Thanks.

Posted by: slimedog at December 22, 2004 7:13 AM

I'm with slimedog. There's $17 (plus popcorn & drink) saved.

Yes, Hollywood, I want to part with my money to be bummed out watching beautiful people fvck up their lives.


Posted by: Kevin Baker at December 26, 2004 8:56 PM