Plays are plays and movies are movies and never the twain shall meet, or at least, so I desperately hoped. Unfortunately, Mike ("The Graduate") Nichols has decided to adapt Patrick Marber's play. If I was really pining for that canned, forced dialogue one only gets while watching a play, I'd head down to the local dinner theater or find a raving homeless man with a Jesus complex and pay him $8 to tell me the meaning of life.
No matter what Nichols does, "Closer" never seems like anything other than heads yapping back and forth about relationships and the meaning of love and whatnot like a convention of bad self-help authors. It's the antithesis of cinematic. The story is about four people whose lives and romantic relationships intertwine. Dan (Jude Law) meets Alice (Natalie Portman). A year or so later, he is having his picture taken by Anna (Julia Roberts) and is instantly smitten although he's still with Alice. Dan tries to tempt Anna and inadvertently sends her into the arms of Larry (Clive Owen), whom Anna ends up marrying. It's only then that Dan and Anna begin a relationship and everyone ends up getting hurt.
Sounds like a blast, doesn't it? The movie is a pretentious banter free-for-all, which is the disease plaguing most movies based on plays. Because these exercises are by nature claustrophobic, extra emphasis is placed on every piece of dialogue so that it comes across as extra interesting. The irony is that it almost always has the opposite effect.
Unlikable and hyper-real characters make for a bad combination. Each seems freakishly absorbed with hurting others. On the cusp of a career as a novelist, Dan hits on Anna. Anna then enters into a relationship with Larry, who's a self-admitted sexual Neanderthal, seemingly to distract her from a relationship with Dan that she knows she's going to have later on. The cruelties never cease and the film ends with Alice getting in on the act and utterly destroying Dan at his single moment of catharsis, not that we really care, because Dan has already established himself as utterly untrustworthy. In fact, by the end of it all, we hate every last one of the characters and have learned nothing about what makes any of them tick.
We do, however, get more cheap platitudes than a fire sale at a Hallmark store. Nichols and Marber seem to be asking: Why do we get into relationships if they're so fraught with disaster? Why are people so cruel to each other? I have a better question: If Nichols and Marber are so concerned with cruelty, why have they spent 98 minutes abusing the audience?
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