Both Closer and Reigen take an ironic approach to farce, but on balance Marber tends to favor experience, Schnitzler observation. Thus, unlike Reigen, Closer is detached but not clinical—there's nothing as concrete as syphilis underlying the characters' movements or accounting for their bafflement and pain, for instance. Nonetheless, in both plays the low-temperature approach keeps the emotions from overwhelming other responses. In Closer, you register and respond to the characters' illusions, lies, opportunism, and manipulations, but you don't see them from their self-serving perspectives. For instance, when he goes to Larry's office sniveling that he wants Anna back, Dan gets his comeuppance from Larry, in both immediate and time-release forms. We're too acquainted with Larry's brutally effective "caveman" side, however, to cheer. (After seeing Dan for the first time at Anna's show, Larry says to her, "I could 'ave 'im" (as in a physical fight) like a pitbull marking his territory.)
In this slightly sterile atmosphere, Marber enables you to identify with the characters in a way that doesn't permit you to make excuses, either. I could identify with all of them in part, and unless your love life has been considerably more placid than mine, you, too, will have done to others, or had done to you, everything that Larry & Anna & Dan & Alice do to each other. Though considerably toned up, this is how your romantic entanglements would look from a disinterested viewpoint. Closer is a voguish farce that, rather than making you wish you were like the characters, makes you wish that you hadn't been.
Marber started his career as a stand-up comedian, but as clever as he is he doesn't make "cute" about the characters' behavior. At the same time, it doesn't feel perverse of the movie to use Così fan tutte as background music and cultural referent, because Marber is laying out the old bad news with a light hand: with a caviar knife not a trowel. Closer is even less idealistic than Così fan tutte, with its the 18th-century urbanity, and it's less "fun" as well, which is not to say it isn't a successful work of entertainment. The adroit dialogue isn't the brittle, polished repartee of classic farce, in which all the characters say at the perfect moment and with perfect timing what would be l'esprit de l'escalier for us, at best. Marber's highly theatrical writing makes the term "punchy" seem more literally descriptive than usual. The dialogue indicates why these people would find each other attractive but also the problems they'll run into. It has the depressive gleam of beauty reflected in polished jet.
I particularly love when Alice first tells Dan she worked as a stripper in New York and then exclaims, "Look at your little eyes!" Since he's trying to win her, all he can manage is, "I can't see my little eyes." By the end of the movie you realize that though this is expert first-meeting banter, making Dan seem smart and funny, it also means he's not focusing on what he feels about what he's hearing. He saves the moment but only defers the damage, which will be worse for the deferral. Some of the lines, particularly Larry's, are bruising, but are sensationally effective in theatrical terms and emphasize the impossibility of taking back what's been done and said. The plot is, by the end, ingenious, but I was completely engrossed in the exchanges among the four characters and didn't think about the dénouement until it was happening.