I could be cute, and spirited, and use the most elevated language at my disposal to inform you of my immediate reaction to this film, but I’ve decided that in the grandest tradition of the visceral, I will be blunt — I hated this fucking movie so passionately and so clearly that I would have done anything, including a messy suicide, to make it stop. That might seem odd given that I could have left the theater at any time, but somehow I felt obligated to endure every last insufferable minute of one of the year’s most unpleasant offerings. But unlike some critics who might object to the immorality of the characters, or their deviousness, or their shallow predictability, I oppose first and foremost their complete failure to be even remotely interesting; to utter one word, offer one glance, or engage in one activity that didn’t crush my skull with mind-bending irrelevance. The assorted assignations and high school hysterics were the cinematic equivalent of staring down a manhole, or coming face to face with a blank wall. Nothing comes to mind as more tedious or more wasteful than the lives of these people, and believe me, I’ve done my share of time-killing. I’ve had ass-splitting shits that required more concentration, and I can’t imagine what anyone had in mind with a screenplay so fundamentally self-important, yet utterly bankrupt of ideas. If the banality didn’t kill it, the droning humorlessness would.
Given the star power involved — Mike Nichols directs, Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen star — one would think that competence would find a way to squeak through. Not me, of course, for Roberts and Portman are the most revolting one-two punch currently working. Roberts may not laugh like a wounded hyena this time around, but about the fiftieth time someone said that they couldn’t live without her — the sort of person who wears self-pity like a golden fucking tiara — I was ready to slash at my wrists with the fury of an epileptic. She mopes, whines, and repeats dreadful dialogue like she’s being forced at gunpoint, and yet Law and Owen would have us think that there is no mountain standing that shouldn’t be moved to spend a mere moment in this woman’s shadow. Even her alleged gift–photography–seems a chore; a distraction to remind her that she might in fact have a pulse. The jury’s still out, I’m afraid. And Law, as a writer? A typically struggling novelist? One could not imagine this spineless sap writing anything worthwhile, even the obituaries he churns out to pay the rent. I only wish that he had written his own before leaping from the tallest structure in London (where this cure for insomnia takes place).
What’s it all about, you ask? Law (Dan) encounters Portman (Alice) on the street after she is hit by a car (a truly insipid meet-cute, but whatever). After speaking in clipped, artificial tones (Alice asks: “What euphemism am I?”), they fall in love, or at least what passes for love in the demented universe of these loathsome creeps. And then there’s Anna and Larry (Roberts and Owen), the other two waxworks in this lifeless museum, who also fall in love, obviously because no one else would have them. Anna and Larry’s meet-cute, on the other hand, is at an aquarium, where Larry visits after believing he is meeting an on-line sex-pot after a nasty cyber-fuck. In fact, Dan was fucking with Larry, but due to a contrivance of monumental proportions, Anna happens to be there to fall into Larry’s misunderstanding. Of course, the awkwardness turns into a romance, for as we know, many a love affair begins after some pervert runs to fuck some chick he met on the web, only to encounter someone else. But Dan has fallen for Anna while getting his picture taken for his book jacket, even though they did nothing more than exchange come-hither looks. And so begins a plot where Anna loves Larry, yet will sleep with Dan, who loves Alice, who will force Anna to divorce Larry, only after Alice fucks Larry. Even the Marx Brothers wouldn’t appear in a farce this ridiculous.
Again, I am more than happy to spend several hours in the dark with pricks, assholes, and murderous villains. The nastier the better, actually. I draw the line, however, at dullness. Despite what you might read elsewhere, Closer is bereft of insight. Revealing absolutely nothing about relationships, love, sex, or ego, the film tries to equate simple cruelty with depth and revelation. But it’s all behavior; no inner life exists with these characters, and the shallowness is more than a character trait, it’s the entire approach. Again, this is not a commentary on shallowness, but an exercise of that characteristic; as if grinding the life out of us is the best way to show that human beings are inherently vile. Yes, people cheat on each other, don’t know what they want, and act recklessly out of insecurity and boredom, but such things can be conveyed without making the whole thing seem like an especially bad episode of Melrose Place.
At no time do these people do anything but talk about what they’re doing; a redundancy that acts as a fatal blow for anyone expecting even the bare minimum of entertainment. These people have no lives, interests, or outside relationships that don’t involve sitting around screeching about being in love, then not, then back again, but only after fucking. Such circular lives could have been a source of great fun, but Nichols and company choose to dramatize the affair, which makes it impossible to care. By the time Alice tells Dan she no longer loves him, despite wanting to have wild sex three minutes before (and at the beginning of a romantic holiday to New York), I was ready for an acid bath. Only words on a page force people to shift back and forth with such incoherence, that is unless you are filming the daily lives of schizophrenic drug addicts. Had Nichols pulled back to reveal such a hand, I might have given him a pass. As it stands, fuck the lot of ’em.