By Alan Scherstuhl
By Mark Holcombe
By Scott Foundas
By Nick Pinkerton
By Michael Atkinson
By Scott Foundas
By Keith Phipps
By Alan Scherstuhl
Meet Adrian Lyne, superhero. A recovering TV ad director by day, a would-be pornographer by night. Trapped in a boomer milieu full of desperate souls who lap up his lasciviousness to fuel their marital fantasies. Bound by his conscience to question his urges and stop short of making the Zalman King skin series he was born to make. He can leap a capital R in a single bound, but wrestles the demons of respectability, and is loath to fall into the valley of the NC-17. Sure, at first, you might think it's the other way around. That Lyne is just stuffing hot sex in morality sandwiches for date-night snacking. But his latest movie, Unfaithful, suggests that he's actually conflicted. He seems to want to bring In the Bedroom into the bedroom, or something equally ambitious. A bounty for us all.
Though boldly based on the more nuanced 1969 Claude Chabrol film La femme infidèle, Unfaithful merely continues Lyne's trashy Decalogue of water-cooler what-ifs. What if you met a sexy dominant who wanted you to play sex slave? What if a lusty stranger wanted to do it in a freight elevator? What if someone offered you or your spouse a million dollars for sex? Lyne even reduced Nabokov's Lolita to "What if you could bang some jailbait?" In terms of its central dilemma, Unfaithful recalls Fatal Attraction, but without the PETA-incensing potboiler ending. What if you stumbled upon an irresistible French love doll with a kick-ass SoHo loft, lips for days, great stovetop coffee, and a sick amount of free time? Um, can you say, "Whoops, there goes my shirt?" Bummer that the pivotal Lynian release is hemmed in by so much, comment dit-on?, "plot."
Here's a quick summary of same: Couple and little son live happily in ritzy Westchester County, New York. But the way their softly shot Victorian mansion reflects ominously in the river suggests that something is bound to change. Richard Gere is Edward, the successful but shlubby hubby married to blandly beautiful Connie (Diane Lane). If little corn-popped Erik Per Sullivan seems like he's constantly seeing dead people, you can hardly blame him.
One blustery day, Connie is in the cobblestone city innocently donating items for a charity auction when the fateful moment occurs. In a scene that plays like Amélie in a nuclear winter, hurricane-force winds buffet SoHo, displacing Connie's skirt, Marilyn-style, before pitching her into the equally beleaguered Paul (Olivier Martinez). This clash sends them both to the pavement, him on his back, her 'tween his sculpted thighs. As they fumble for respectable distance, he notices a cut on her supple knee, invites her to his place, (just upstairs, natch), for some first aid. Now, I won't bore you with personal details of how my own twisted Catholic dread-love moved my high school best friend and me to serially rent 9 1/2 Weeks in our formative years, but suffice it to say that the mano a mano in Unfaithful is another sparkling Lyne achievement.
In the wake of this back-alley smut, the whole marriage-destruction plot seems like an afterthought. The shags, set to songs of Ali Farka Toure, are pretty much the focus of the film. As usual, Lyne gets caught up in the sex and in his swoon forgets that the movie is supposed to be about violence. Since he creates no suspense whatsoever, I won't spoil the film by saying that after a hilariously lengthy establishment of the affair, Edward tracks down Paul and addresses the situation manfully. In the sardonic French version, the cuckold's volatile response to his wife's infidelity ultimately makes him more attractive to her and saves the marriage. In Lyne's adaptation, bleary Edward only makes his wife that much more miserable.
Certainly, some of the responsibility for the flat denouement rests with Gere, who is impossibly pleased with himself for taking on such an unglamorous role and fetishizes his shlubbiness to the point of asexuality. At least when it comes to his wife. Gere registers passion only when he first lays pained but awed eyes on the smoldering Paul. For an ecstatic split second I hoped beyond hope that they'd just start getting it on.
Lyne has said in interviews that he wanted the film to be about "the body language of guilt," which is fine if he means watching people who haven't done dishes or wiped a table for themselves in years trying to Method-act household chores. For his part, Gere does manage some pretty adorable crime-related slapstick. But for a proposed psychodrama, the emotional palette is narrower than the olives and ochers of the Ralph Lauren home-collection décor. Connie and Edward's lifestyle might induce a bout of collective schadenfreude, except that they don't actually experience any lasting misfortune.
The film's dialogue doesn't help matters. The banter reserved for Gere and Lane makes them seem like extras from The Truman Show, and several strange reaction shots hint that the family dog may be possessed of secret powers. The heavy-accented Martinez spouts idioms like the native New Yorker he was written to be; Chad Lowe gets prominent billing for about four lines, one of which I think is "For Christ's sake, give me a goddamned career!"
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