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Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Review Date: 12

Mike Nichols' latest, Closer, is now playing at the Santa Cruz Cinema 9. Starring Natalie Portman as Alice (a young stripper), Jude Law as Dan (an obituary writer), Julia Roberts as Anna, a photographer, and Clive Owen as Larry, a dermatologist, the film is set in London and features two Americans and two Brits, coupled that way: American and Brit, American and Brit. The women are the Americans. I don't know what that means.

So, Dan and Alice start out together, the result of a chance encounter involving a car accident (Alice gets hit) and the man who accompanies her (Dan). Dan then writes a book about his relationship with Alice, a sort of whimsical fairy-type character, and gets his picture taken by Anna, with whom he begins a frustrated flirtation. To get revenge for having been rejected, he poses as her and sets her up on a blind date arranged through the internet. When Larry, the unsuspecting guy, shows up at the aquarium to meet Anna, they get together. That's the setting. Then the rest: each guy ends up with the other girl, and, in the end, one couple stays together and the other breaks up. The movie's being touted as fabulous, but I have to strain to remember it: something about the paltriness of everyone's motives, the lack of steamy sex scenes, the callousness and cruelty of the foursome's amorous pursuits. Perhaps the key is in the question of "art" that features prominently in the film: Dan's relationship with Alice generates art (his novel), while Anna's affair with Dan in turn produces poignant photographs of a tearful Alice for her photo exhibit. And, of course, all are in attendance at the gallery at the opening night reception.

This is a cynical movie made for these times from a director who's done equally scathing and cynical work for other times in his previous films, Carnal Knowledge and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. But, but . . . I didn't sense much social satire, nor any depth. Hurt feelings don't even go very deep. The result of all this intrigue, heartbreak and lying-there's a lot of lying-is a yawn and a kind of bored so what? I say kind of, because after the New York Times Magazine article on how Julia Roberts makes herself over for European films (lose that smile, baby), it was fun to see her try out her new serious duplicitous self. Ah, America's sweetheart finally gets corrupt enough to cheat and lie. And Jude Law, who's been on the screen a lot these days, is always a treat to watch, though a bit too much of Alfie's cluelessness carried through to this film. Whatever happened to his marvelous roles as sinister type in, say, The Talented Mr. Ripley? Clive Owen played his role with a kind of muscularity and crude animal sexiness that seemed a salutary break out of roles for him, while, alas, Ms. Portman came across as lovely and vacant-ish. Get a personality, girl! Anyway, mostly it was like watching acting class with really good and famous actors.

Once again, though, I had the experience of being grateful that a holiday movie toned down the volume a bit and focused on what's not so relentlessly cheerful about interpersonal relationships these days, even if Closer (why that title?) seemed, like its characters, lacking in a certain psychological depth. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.