Lost Love's Labors

Tying together the many heartfelt strands of 'Wicker Park' leaves a powerful picture that rewards the effort.

MovieReview

September 03, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Few things can be more maddening in a movie than to have events turning continuously on various and sundry dimes; surely, the mark of a weak script (or a lazy scriptwriter) is to have outcomes that hinge on timely happenstance.

But the weirdly exhilarating thing about Wicker Park is the reckless abandon with which it embraces the convenience of coincidence, and then the extreme measures it takes to reassure the audience that it's not a movie about coincidence at all, but rather manipulation, obsession, the boundaries of love and the lengths to which the human heart will go to satisfy itself. It's a movie consisting of two radically different halves, at least in terms of tone. And while the second half doesn't entirely atone for all the liberties taken in the first, it does a better job than might be expected. At the very least, it deserves extra points for trying.

Josh Hartnett is Matthew, a big-shot investment banker who's about to: A) fly off to China on business of some import, and B) get married to a woman who seems a little too driven for his liking. His plans come unhinged over dinner at a trendy restaurant, however, when he catches a fleeting glimpse of a beautiful woman rushing to make a phone call. Although he only sees her for a second or two, he's sure it's Lisa (Diane Kruger), the object of a recent infatuation that apparently turned sour.

Setting off to find her, he's repeatedly unsuccessful, always missing her by a few moments. He leaves notes, waits in cars, even finds the key to her hotel room and lets himself in. (One question the film poses but never answers: Why does Lisa leave her room but not turn off the shower? Seems rather silly, not to mention wasteful.)

All the while this fruitless chase is unfolding, the movie flashes back to their relationship, which seems a decidedly one-sided affair, with Lisa barely interested and Matthew falling desperately hard for her.

Two other players soon enter the drama. Matthew's pal, Luke (Matthew Lillard), is a partying kind of guy who seems interested only in when his next score is going to happen (like everyone else in Wicker Park, he'll turn out to be far more layered than anyone initially suspects). And then there's another gal, also named Lisa (Rose Byrne), who gets drawn into the mix unexpectedly, yet proves invaluable in helping Matthew discover the sense of self he'll need to survive his continuing heartache.

A remake of French director Gilles Mimouni's 1996 L'Appartement, Wicker Park nicely combines a French sense of mystery and discombobulation with the American demand for order amid the chaos. And while fans of the earlier film already are lining up to disparage the liberties writer Brandon Boyce and director Paul McGuigan (The Reckoning) have taken with the source material, there are enough nods to the French original to keep its fans on their toes (the restaurant in Wicker Park is called Bellucci's, a nod to one of L'Appartement's stars).

Somewhat more problematic is the acting, especially that of Hartnett, who comes across as a furrowed brow with not much behind it (to be fair, he gets better as the film moves along and he's allowed to lighten up some). Kruger fares somewhat better as the lovely Lisa; as in Troy, she handles the lovely part fine, but here she gets to play a character instead of a statue. In their supporting roles, both Lillard, no doubt relieved to be acting outside the Scooby-Doo franchise, and Byrne, sympathetic and vulnerable in ways that are key to making the ending of Wicker Park work, come across as far more human and likable; they're certainly comfortable in their roles.

Told in a determinedly non-linear style, Wicker Park seems to be the story of one man's obsession over a lost love that he may never have had at all, and one woman's insistence that what's inside her heart legitimizes everything she does, no matter how wrong or wrong-headed it may seem. Problem is, by the end of the film, their roles have been reversed, reversed and then reversed again. The effect is something like riding one of those scramblers at an amusement park and trying to keep your eye on a fixed point the whole time; every time you think it's in sight, the ride whips you around in another direction, and you have to locate it all over again. While some may find such rides frustrating, those who revel in such challenges should have a fine time here.

Wicker Park

Starring Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger

Directed by Paul McGuigan

Rated PG-13 (sexuality and language)

Released by MGM

Time 114 minutes

SUN SCORE ***

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