A bleak and dreary `November'

MovieReview D

September 23, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

Jokes about art-school artiness don't make an art movie any less arty.

In the case of the failed thriller November, they make it doubly self-conscious. This generally humorless tale of a photographer-teacher (Courteney Cox) who freaks out when she witnesses the convenience-store killing of her boyfriend (James LeGros) is like an undergraduate thesis film gone wrong. It's an existential mystery told in a splintered post-Memento style that may affect you like Chinese water torture. It replays the same events from the heroine's point of view while she's at different mental states from "denial" to "acceptance."

So with various changes in dialogue, details and nuances, we get to witness and rewitness the photography class, her encounters with a colleague and sometime-lover (Michael Ealy), her dinner with her attractive, well-groomed mother (Anne Archer), the prelude to the murder, and a cleverly monotonous shrink session (Nora Dunn is excellent as the psychiatrist). Director Greg Harrison makes unsettling use of seedy-to-nondescript Los Angeles settings, and Cox dedicatedly de-glamorizes and rids herself of any amiable Friends mannerisms. But she doesn't get to flesh out her would-be artist besides imbuing her with a creeping desperation and occasional flashes of affection toward her overworked live-in guy and her sparky lover.

To give Cox her due, she manages to unify this dull mosaic as the editing slices and dices the action and the digital-video photography starts cold and brackish and grows warmer and brighter. But Benjamin Brand's script is a puzzle without a satisfying solution. Even at its supposedly heartfelt conclusion, it's more ironic than emotional, more of an art thing than a suspense movie. It's a picture that seems to have been filmed within a set of air quotes.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

November

(Sony Pictures Classics) Starring Courteney Cox and James LeGros.

Directed by Greg Harrison.

Rated R.

Time 73 minutes.

Review D

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