By Brian Rentschler
Short version: This movie was better than I thought it would be, but the characters are such idiots that I found it hard to enjoy the movie more than just marginally.
There’s something I really don’t understand. Why does Hollyweird always have such a huge need to adapt stage plays into movies? It doesn’t make any sense. With the recent release of Rent and The Producers, I feel like I’m in movie hell. The film adaptation of Closer, written by Patrick Marber and based on his play, is a classic example of why I hardly ever go to see stage plays. Most of them are just too morbid and depressing to be enjoyable. I mean, think about it… when was the last time you saw a happy, uplifting stage play? And take my word for it, the words “happy” and “uplifting” are in no danger of being associated with this movie.
For all its faults, Closer is actually quite well-made. In fact, it was better than I thought it was going to be. It basically involves four people who talk for an hour and a half, so I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. The subject matter is unpredictable and edgy enough to be entertaining, though, if not a little shocking at times. (Children should not see this movie for more reasons than I have room to list here.) The bottom line is that if you’re going to direct a stage play, it’s hard to find someone better than Mike Nichols. My biggest issue with Nichols’ films is that he tends to focus on keeping the material edgy and challenging, rather than entertaining the audience. In some cases, that works really well, but with others, that’s not quite the case. Overall, I mildly enjoyed Closer, but the movie is an exercise in frustration to watch, as I’ll explain.
The story is set in London, and it starts out with Dan (played by Jude Law) and Alice (played by Natalie Portman) seeing each other from across a crowded street. Before Dan can introduce himself, though, Alice is promptly mowed down by a car while she’s in the crosswalk, so he goes with her to the hospital. It turns out that she didn’t sustain any major injuries, but during the time Dan and Alice have spent together, they really hit it off. Fast-forward to a few months later, and Dan has written a book about the experience. He’s in a photography studio getting his picture taken for the book cover, when it suddenly dawns on him that the photographer, Anna (played by Julia Roberts), is an attractive young woman. Despite the fact that Dan has a girlfriend, he hits on Anna, and after a little initial hesitation, she reciprocates… sort of. From that point on, Dan is fascinated with Anna, but he still has feelings for Alice. I was starting to get a headache by this point.
The next part of the story has Dan playing an internet prank on a doctor named Larry (played by Clive Owen). Dan pretends that he’s Anna, and he has Larry meet her at a local aquarium. To everyone’s surprise, despite the initial awkward moment, Larry and Anna really hit it off, and before you can say “totally unrealistic,” Larry and Anna are married. But do you think that’s going to stop Dan and Anna from getting their freak on? If you said “heck no,” give yourself a gold star! Before you know it, the relationship between Dan and Alice is in trouble, then Anna and Larry’s marriage is in trouble, then Dan tries to get together with Anna, then Larry tries to get together with Alice… I really had a serious headache by this point.
What really shocked me about this movie was how open everyone was with each other. If people really talk like that in London, I never want to visit that place again. As an example, Anna describes to Larry in graphic detail about what she did with Dan, who had what reaction when, etc. And she tells that to Larry because he asks her! Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that’s not something Dr. Phil would recommend to help a struggling couple get the spark back into their relationship. The most frustrating thing about the movie is that out of the four lead characters, not one is clinically sane. They are all completely nuts, and they are all idiots. Dan is an idiot for cheating on Alice even though they have a (supposedly) happy relationship. Alice is an idiot for staying with a loser like Dan. Anna is an idiot for getting involved with a loser like Dan, even when she’s married. Larry is an idiot for staying with Anna, even though he knows she’s trouble. When all the main characters are idiots, how can they be likable? And how can a movie be enjoyable if there isn’t a single likable character in it?
I won’t reveal what finally ends up happening with all these dysfunctional relationships, but it really doesn’t matter because we don’t have much reason to care. This movie, if nothing else, serves as a great example of what you should not do if you want to keep a relationship alive and well. For all its faults, though, the movie ultimately keeps the viewer interested, not so much in what happens, but rather in the characters themselves. The story development is fairly lackluster, but the character development is quite good, as you would expect from a stage play. I mildly enjoyed Closer because it kept me interested in finding out more about the characters, but I couldn’t enjoy it more than that because all the main characters were such idiots that it was hard to really care about what happened to them. I think it’s time to go watch A Few Good Men again. Now that’s how a stage play should be adapted into a movie…