The grass is NOT always greener on the other side. In fact, sometimes you’re better with the grass you have, it may be full of those prickly weeds and some bare patches, but at least it’s your grass that you know you can count on.
That is the lesson of Closer, starring Jude Law, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman: four people entangled in a web of lust, deceit, mistrust and the pursuit of love.
Clive Owen and Natalie Portman were both nominated for their supporting roles in this film and rightfully so – they excelled in their roles. Julia and Jude, not so much. It’s not that they didn’t show up, say their lines and perform as actors, they just seemed to not feel comfortable in their roles – Julia seemed hollow and worn and Jude seemed kind of sleepy and bored. This dragged down the film immensely.
Portman plays Alice, a free-spirited stripper escaping to London from an abusive boyfriend. Beguiled by her beauty is Daniel (played by Law), an obituriarist with higher ambitions for his writing. After a near miss with a cab, Daniel and Alice are inextricably linked to one another, her the needy muse to his stable, but uninspired writer.
The movie has an annoying habit of slipping forward in time with zero segue, leaving the viewer puzzle bits and pieces of the story together in a haphazard and distracting way. Not my favorite movie-making technique, but it certainly saves the plot line time.
Through his relationship with Alice, Daniel finally is able to write something other than death notices: a book based on the life of Alice. During a photoshoot for the book, he meets Anna (played by Julia), a divorced and successful photographer. In a scene that is supposed to imply the instant attraction between Daniel and Anna, the two “strangers” act more like old lovers – sharing an intimate kiss, which they both soon realize has complicated their otherwise, ho-hum lives.
This is really where it goes south: Julia and Jude are just not good together. I’ve seen two wet sticks give off more sparks than these two.
Enter Alice, literally who is just around the corner from the shoot and intervenes on the spark that has just been lit between Daniel, the pursuer, and Anna, the not-so-convincing object of his affection. I am not sure what it is with Julia, but she has zero charisma in this film.
Alice, not as naive as she looks, knows something is up and overhears the conversation between Daniel and Anna, as Anna feigns her rebuke at his advances because “he’s taken.” The morals are a little loose amongst these adults.
Daniel, in a sick twist of perversion, engages our final character Larry during an on-line chat on a sex-site. Pretending to be “Anna” he manages to lure Larry the dermatologist into his web of sexual deceit (and Larry is all too willing, liking his women a bit whorish, bordering on roadhouse slut) and suggests they meet.
During this game of bait and switch, he tells Larry to meet him at the Aquarium -which is where Anna likes to photograph strangers.
In a convulated plot twist, Anna is at the Aquarium and Larry approaches her like she is some kind of hootchie-baring alley tramp and somehow this licentious perv woos his way into her heart and low and behold the next scene, months later at her big phoyo show opening, they are dating.
So, now the fun begins, Larry sees Alice who is standing in front of her portrait (the one Anna took the day at the studio when she confesses she knew that Daniel and Anna were making out), a larger than life snapshot of her tear-stained but exquisite face. Larry, ever the salacious creep engages her in his inimitable way and a moment of seduction takes place just feet away from their respective lovers.
Simultaneoulsy, Daniel is professing that he has indeed been stalking Anna and Anna professes that she indeed has been enjoying it, albeit, once again feigning protest.
Next up: betrayal, adult style.
Daniel tells Alice he’s in love with Anna, who is now married to Larry, who returns home from a trip and confesses he slept with “whore” (whatever that means) and all hell breaks loose. There are many tawdry discussions of who fucked who, what position, what bodily fluids were exchanged, dimensions, depth and every facet of carnal knowledge is revealed for the listening pleasure of the cuckold.
At Daniel and Alice’s flat, Alice is desperately clinging to the illusion of love, as Daniel tells her he’s ready to move on, it is here that we get a glimpse of what really exists in Alice’s heart. She is young, but the most honest and admirable of the lot. She truly loves Daniel and asks if she can still see him, despite his betrayal – it’s truly pathetic, yet heartbreaking. We can all remember at least once grasping at the last vestiges of love, self-esteem and ego, as it walks out the door into the arms of another.
The scene at Larry and Anna’s is not so sweet; both older and wiser than our young lovers, Larry and Anna hash it out like two hardened sailors, soiling the air with contempt and jealousy, sexual language that made me blush and details of trysts that were beyond good taste – all for the sick wanking fodder of Larry. Julia playing Anna was embarassing to watch: forced to say words and display emotions that were not natural for her, she almost visibly recoiled at saying them and seemed to portray this character to spite herself.
Word of advice to Julia: stay away from bad whore parts, stick with good whore parts, “Pretty Woman” good, “Closer” eh, not so good.
Clive Owen is perfect as Larry, which coincidentally enough is a departure from his role as Daniel in the London stage production. Owen’s working-class Brit tone fits well. He rattles off every nasty utterance as though he is an editor for Hustler. I genuinely felt his sliminess ooze from his every pore, and Eric, who it’s noteworthy to mention, hated the film and kept wishing Jason Bourne would show up and shoot him.
Let’s wind up a bit: Alice disappears, Larry finds her, Anna and Daniel shack up for a while, Larry cons Anna into sleeping with him one more time out of guilt and to get him to sign the divorce papers, and Anna is just skanky enough to do it despite her “vast” love for Daniel, who quickly figures out she is a slag and is appropriately disgusted by her now and their “love” takes a turn for the worst (all part of Larry’s plan), and the rest is the whole crux of the story and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The ending is sad, but what I liked about the story (and I did actually like it) was the moral: a bird in the hand who loves you is better than the bird in the bush who will fuck anything.
This is a lesson to not be underestimated. The movie has some very credible merits, Portman is amazing as both seductress and fragile girl, Owen is convincing and disturbing as the complicated, sexually deviant, flawed cretin.
I hope to never see Julia and Jude as lovers again.