MOVIE REVIEW:This Twist on the Tryst Fails to Engage |

MOVIE REVIEW:This Twist on the Tryst Fails to Engage

Carina Chocano
Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — “Married Life” turns out to be as indefinable as the condition it’s named for, not to mention as variable. What starts as a dark comedy that plays like a film noir, or a film noir that plays as a dark comedy, detours into a melodramatic comedy of manners and ends up confused.

Maybe this was what director Ira Sachs, whose “Forty Shades of Blue” won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2005, was going for in tossing together genres like salad greens, but they never gel into a consistent point of view. Neither does the film ” which is set in the 1940s but doesn’t mimic the aesthetic of movies from that era ” really ever settle on a tone. So the actors pick the one that suits them best. As a result, the fine ensemble cast doesn’t feel like it belongs ensemble at all. Perhaps they’d be better off apart.

Chris Cooper plays Harry Allen, a married businessman in his 50s who has fallen in love with a younger woman. Harry wants to marry Kay (Rachel McAdams), but for that he’d have to leave his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), whom he loves too much to see suffer. To spare her the pain of losing him, he decides to kill her instead.

It’s a hare-brained idea and a brilliant premise for a farcical dark comedy — the idea that the splendid, spunky Pat would be better off dead than sans Harry is inherently absurd — which is why it’s so disconcerting to see the talented Cooper play his hapless Romeo as a tormented would-be killer straight out of Hitchcock, twisted by his dirty conscience into knots. Or, rather, why it’s so disconcerting to see it in this particular movie. The story is narrated by Harry’s friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan), a suave playboy bachelor who is completely inured to the idea of marriage until he meets Harry’s new girlfriend.

Kay is a platinum bombshell intent on marrying Harry for un-mysterious reasons. Or so you think on first setting eyes on her swirly up-do and blood-red lips. But it turns out that this particular wallpaper salesgirl is not a variation on the home-wrecking retail hussy played by Joan Crawford in “The Women,” or a classic femme fatale, but a borderline saintly suburban war widow instead. What gives? Who knows, but it takes the air right out of the souffle.

What exactly it is about Kay that arouses such passions is unclear ” aside from her obvious physical charms, she’s not much to write home about. Pat, meanwhile, is anything but the simpering lamprey that Harry imagines her to be (or wishes she was). Clarkson plays her with a playful wink, even when she’s bawling her eyes out. You half-expect her and Brosnan’s character to run off together to make their own screwball comedy and leave Cooper’s and McAdams’ to their domestic melodrama.

Brosnan glides through the movie like a tuxedoed spy in search of a cold martini. He’s the only operator around, and his machinations determine the outcome of each of the love stories. But most of his interference involves omitting information and leaving the rest to fate, which lends the movie a somewhat desultory air. But the appeal of the cast, the witty dialogue, the gorgeous costumes and production design, and the refreshingly grown-up subject matter can’t be discounted. Maybe it is about compromise, after all, because though “Married Life” has its moments, it’s bewildering as a whole.

‘Married Life’ MPAA rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and a scene of sexuality. Running time: 90 minutes. In limited release.