Friday, May 27, 2011
"Last Night" (opening May 27 at Reading Gaslamp Theaters) looks to a young couple's marital problems.
A husband's casual exchange with a sexy co-worker at a cocktail party stirs jealousy in his wife and so begins "Last Night." Sam Worthington and Keira Knightley are Michael and Joanna Reed. They are an attractive couple leading a comfortable life. When Joanna confronts her husband with her suspicions, he denies any attraction but that does little to subdue her concerns as Michael leaves for a weekend business trip with the sexy Laura (Eva Mendes). But distraction does come Joanna's way when she just happens to run into Alex (Guillaume Canet), a former lover that she's still attracted to. As the weekend progresses, both Michael and Joanna are tempted to be unfaithful. When Joanna and Michael reunite at home after the weekend, one has had a sexual fling while the other has engaged in emotional infidelity. The film ends on a note of ambiguity as to where their marriage will go from there.
Directed by Massy Tadjedin, "Last Night" is rather tepid exploration of a contemporary marriage heading for the rocks. The plot is heavily contrived so that the spouses can engage in parallel behavior all weekend and Tadjedin can continually cut back and forth between the action. But even if you can get past the contrivance and buy into the story, the characters are so remote and their behavior so unmotivated that it's hard to maintain interest in the film. This is especially true of Michael's story. There is no motivation for him to have an affair and for Laura to tempt him other than they are attractive people and placed in close quarters with alcohol. Laura reveals that she was deeply hurt by a past lover's infidelity, and without any insight into her character it makes little sense that she would go after a colleague that appears happily married. Nor does Michael's attraction to her make sense after we see him being very affectionate and supportive of his wife. Maybe if he was painted as a good liar then we could consider these scenes a misdirection to prove how good he is at deception, but I don't think Tadjedin means to paint him in that light so that returns me to the problem of him not seeming properly motivated to have an affair.
Joanna's story is moderately better written and the emotions are slightly more convincing. There is at least a connection between her and Alex that we believe and we see an attraction. There's some heat to their encounter and a sense of chemistry. We can imagine them being together and wanting to be together. Their half of the film is also bolstered by the appearance of Griffin Dunne as Alex's friend. Dunne's nosy friend asks Joanna some blunt questions that at least allow her to reveal something of herself in a way Michael never gets to do.
Tadjedin makes the film pretty to look at. Not only are the people exceptionally attractive but so too are the swanky hotels, spacious New York apartments, and seductively lit nocturnal scenes of New York. But it's a cool and detached beauty that never invites us in or feels terribly real. The story and introspection of the characters are the stuff of a lot of recent mumblecore films but Tadjedin provides a much slicker surface and higher production value than those hipster films. Yet both mumblecore and Tadjedin share a certain narcissistic self-reflection that immediately assumes audiences are interested in the lives of their characters.
Unfortunately, I felt little interest in the characters of "Last Night." The script, also by Tadjedin, was not strong and the performances were similarly lackluster. Worthington, who has actually provided heart and soul to lame action films like "Terminator Salvation," is like the walking dead here. And Knightley seems to be developing almost as much affectation as Kristen Stewart. And neither one managed to engage me in their problems.
This kind of story has been done so much better in other films. For a scathing look at relationships there's the brutal yet wickedly funny "Closer." For quirky, quiet exploration there's Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart in "Conversations with other Women." And for a clever analysis of an affair there's Harold Pinter's "Betrayal." Any of these offers far better writing, acting, and directing. So seek one of them out instead.
"Last Night" (rated R for some language) is a shallow and bland look at marriage and infidelity. I did appreciate, though, how Tadjedin considered that infidelity need not just be about sex. In some ways emotional infidelity can be more damaging to a marriage or relationship than a mere sexual fling. If Tadjedin could have brought that contrast into sharper focus, then maybe the film could have developed more personality.
Companion viewing: "Closer," "Conversations with Other Women," "Betrayal"