A Happy Ending?
Basing films on plays is not a new thing. Hollywood has been stealing from the theatre when it ran out of original ideas in the genres infancy. Adapting theatre isn’t as easy at it would seem. The text has to be thoroughly reworked for film or it can feel very heavy. The last thing a director wants to deal with is a fixed script that’s clunky (like Phantom).
Mike Nichols has proven that he can take a theatrical piece and create a memorable filmic experience. Angels in America is a mini-series that I am unlikely to forget. Dealing with life, love, disease, death, faith, sexuality, marriage, hatred, and a long list of other issues, Angels is six hours of gripping television that challenges one to look inward and evaluate.
I was not surprised that Nichols’ next project was another play text adaptation. I haven’t seen many of his previous films, and I haven’t seen Carnal Knowledge, which I believe is in a similar theme to Closer.
Closer is the story of four people living in London. It is by chance that they meet and that is where the film begins. Dan (Jude Law) is an Obiturist and leading a pointless existence; Anna (Julia Roberts) is a newly divorced photographer; Larry (Clive Owen) is a Dermatologist who likes to have online sex; Alice (Natalie Portman) is a drifter who strips.
Via two chance meetings Anna and Larry hook up and Dan and Alice hook up. Over time, Dan also sees Anna and eventually Larry goes looking for Alice. Complicated and twisted are the two words that spring to mind. Yet what about relationships isn’t complicated and who hasn’t been in a relationship that when viewed from the outside appears twisted.
Closer is an honest look at relationships and all of the grim details. The stuff that most Hollywood films gloss over or ignore is presented so openly that you can’t help but try and understand. Each of the characters is likeable and each of them is abhorrent, just as each of us are. If you aren’t honest enough with yourself to understand that everyone is capable of these nasty acts, you will likely hate this film.
Nasty, it does get. The mantra that these characters go by is honesty, but they use that honesty to inflict pain. The truth is normally painful to deal with, but when thrown in someone’s face it is nigh on unbearable.
This is the first film that I have seen Julia Roberts play a real human. Her performance is completely grounded. I think she must have had some huge emotional connection to really go the places Anna goes. She also looked the part; her make-up was natural, and her hair was never perfect and solid. She looked tired and downright plain and her performance was taken that step further with the pain she showed in her eyes.
Jude Law was the only cast member I took a moment to adjust too. He is normally the suave gentleman, not the awkward loner. He plays the early thirty year old guy looking for love, but in too many places, well. Dan is forgettable guy, and Law had to work hard to ensure that he was never forgotten. Dan’s most memorable line, for me, was when he was in a theatre’s bar and stated “I need to piss.”. As did I at that time.
Clive Owen is most recently known for playing the monosyllabic King Arthur. Larry is far more articulate. We first meet Larry while he’s online in his office: chatting and masturbating. At first it seems that he is the average guy who gets the short stick, but as the film progresses his true self is revealed and Owen revels in this change. We see the layers that were always just under the surface revealed and the truth outed.
Natalie Portman has officially grown up. If you’re still under that illusion that she’s that innocent girl from Star Wars, you’d better not see Closer. The 23 year old actor was playing someone her own age and took the challenges this character offered and overcame them with confidence. The strip club scene is likely to become infamous but it is filmed well and the dialogue is electric. Portman gives Alice an air of naïve innocence and yet the situations she becomes entangled in are far from it.
Patrick Marber adapted his script for the screen and, I believe, kept a similar tone and distance with the characters. There is no opportunity to really get to know the characters; they are all kept at a distance. What we are given is the now; the present state of that character and their relationships. The time jumps are an effective way of avoiding the ritual life of the character and focusing on the major events. I think it was Hitchcock who said that drama is life with the boring parts removed. Closer is an extreme of this.
The complex nature of each character keeps the audience in a constant state of flux between empathy, sympathy and antipathy. Never have my feelings about characters changed so much in one film.
I left the cinema with my mind in a whirl. I was thinking about this film for a few days after seeing it, and have only now (three weeks later) had a clear enough memory to be able to write about it.
The title of the film isn’t literal like so many nowadays. It is yet another theme that could be endlessly debated. Closer to what? To people, to partners, to the destruction of any successful relationship? I’m still not sure.
If you want to read an excellent review. I’d recommend this one.
See it. Discuss it.