Based on a play by Wallace Shawn (who also co-wrote the screenplay), this film is a day in the life of an unhappily married couple, played by Juliane Moore and Matthew Broderick, who don’t know what to do about said unhappiness. The story is simple but the paths each character take is not. After a bitter breakfast scene, they separately go about their day before meeting at a party in the evening where Marie may or may not leave Bruce once and for all.
The dialogue is very reminiscent of a meta-theatrical stage production as the characters are able to freely address the audience in narration or monologues. When speaking to each other, they are terribly open and leave no feeling hidden as they express every thought in a highly unnatural and stylized manner. This leads to some very biting humour as Marie explains her disdain without mercy towards either Bruce or anyone he associates with, while Bruce feels no qualms about detailing the state of is genitals after a one night stand he had 11 years prior. At the same time, this strange and often venomous dialogue is peppered with the persistent use of endearing terms such as “darling” when one of the two addresses the other, which turns into a nice device used by the writers to squeeze out more of a satirical view of decaying, modern couplehood.
The film becomes rather disjointed when Marie enters dream realms at random intervals. It is not exactly clear what they are supposed to represent, which makes them feel Lynchesque, especially a dinner scene that relishes in the same use of odd characters being inexplicably joyful and almost ironically upbeat (think of the old couple in Mulholland Drive, the dwarf in Twin Peaks, Robert Blake in Lost Highway, the neighbour from Inland Empire…need I go on? ). They could be metaphors for Marie’s true feelings about her life and her love, but that would require a greater amount of imagination than the time alloted for the film allows.
The pacing is never steady and you have to watch closely to see exactly who the character is addressing otherwise you may never know if what you are hearing his internal or actually being said as there is not much change in style or tone between them. The one notable exception is when Bruce tells the story of his day and displays his cowardliness when blurting out the first thing that pops into his head to a woman at a Deli. This also so happens to be one of the best sequences in the entire film.
The openness of the characters’ dialogue helps to make great points about life and relationships, but the film also alienates the audience through its strange use of fever-dream like realities. An awkward one-two combo of directness from the characters then turning to complete ambiguity. This makes it hard to get a strong hold of what is happening, or at least makes the audience feel that much more at a distant from it.
Aspect ratio of 1.78:1 Widescreen.
The black levels don’t seem terribly sharp as the overall picture sometimes has, what looks like, a digital looking haze over it, but then clears up some at the dream sequences, a sign that the director intended it to look this way. Honestly, it looks pretty good but could be a pinch sharper.
Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and French. There are subtitles available in English, French and Spanish.
At first, the audio seems unbalanced and very unsuited for Surround as the characters speak very quietly while the music can be quite booming during transitions. This changes as the pace picks up and it settles into a decent immersion experience…but not a great one.
This is a decent revision of the play but a bit hard to swallow for those that might be expecting something of a grittier, more realistic look into deteriorating relationships. In the end, the performances are what makes this film work (more or less) and help highlight what are some truly hilarious moments. The stars, especially Matthew Broderick, have a naturally charming and positive mien which helps both the more ironic moments of the film and the most endearing. A bit of a strange journey but worth being curious about.