Written by Steve Geise
If there’s one lasting memory from this film for most viewers, it’s likely the staging of an infamous key party where married couples swap spouses for the night. While that scene is certainly indicative of the overall theme of middle-class boredom, it’s only a small component of this somewhat overlooked film from director Ang Lee.
The film has aged well, really well, and is perhaps even more effective now than during its original 1997 theatrical release. That’s partly due to the remarkable casting, with powerful performances from veterans such as Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, and Sigourney Weaver along with breakout early roles for Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Christina Ricci. There’s even a pre-Dawson’s Creek Katie Holmes in a small but memorable role.
The story centers on the mundane lives of bored suburban families in Connecticut in 1973. The husbands and wives barely tolerate each other as they swing toward mid-life crisis mode and affairs, while their kids find themselves fumbling toward ecstasy one clumsy grope after another. In short, everybody is hooking up or trying to hook up, but nobody seems all that excited about it.
Kline and Allen play a married couple and parents to Maguire and Ricci’s characters, making them the central family of the film. Weaver plays a married neighbor barely tolerating an affair with Kline’s character, with both of them simply seeking an escape from the drudgery of their boring lives rather than reacting to any trouble at home. With the parents involved in their own shenanigans, the kids are largely free to explore their own libidos, with varying results. The tale could be told in any era, but its ‘70s setting is completely crucial to its effectiveness, as that crossroads between the fading sexual revolution of the ‘60s and the impending swing back to conservatism in the ‘80s makes it a distinctive turning point in our sociological history.
The Blu-ray image reproduction of the 2K digital restoration is impeccable, with no noticeable artifacting or defects. Colors appear a bit muted, giving the film more of a ‘70s look that is even more convincing now that it’s approaching closer proximity to that era than the present. Oddly, the original soundtrack was only 2.0 surround, and no efforts have been made to re-engineer it to 5.1. Aside from the arresting score by Mychael Danna, there’s little more than basic dialogue filling the limited soundscape, so the lack of multichannel separation isn’t a detractor.
Bonus features are carried over from the 2008 Criterion DVD release, including a set of retrospective interviews with the cast members, footage from an event honoring Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus, and inconsequential deleted scenes. The interviews are the best feature, as all of the cast members convey a deeper appreciation of the film ten years down the line from its theatrical release.