Laws of Attraction

May, 2004, Comedy

Isn't it curious that romantic comedies set in the work place aren't nearly as amusing as they used to be? Remember Cary Grant harassing Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, or Spencer Tracey's sports writer doing a slow burn as he squires renowned political columnist Katherine Hepburn to her first baseball game?  Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall made this plot work even after getting married, in Designing Woman. Yet during the past couple of decades, as women have advanced more rapidly in business and the professions, it's ironic that Hollywood serves up tepid material like last year's Two Weeks Notice with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant and this fitful effort starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. They play opposing divorce lawyers whose efforts on behalf of their respective clients bring the barristers into frequent and close-- but uncomfortable--contact. Sadly, romance among the high-achiever set isn't what it used to be.

The plot finds disheveled-but-clever Daniel Rafferty (Brosnan) dueling in court with the grimly fastidious Audrey Miller (Moore) over the collapsing marriage of a British rock star and his distraught wife who designs clothes when she isn't raging about her husbands infidelities.  Rafferty lives over a Chinese grocery in lower Manhattan, (for no other apparent reason than to give his character some personal color) while Miller dresses badly, (in a manner designed to reinforce her image as an courtroom pro?) while compulsively nibbling on junk food. When ridiculous circumstances cause them to travel to an Irish castle on behalf of their respective clients, they get drunk, then get married, then get at each other's throats as their high-maintenance clients give the audience a migraine with their asinine behavior. It comes as no surprise to learn that true love wins out in the end, by which time no one cares….

Moore's ephemeral beauty and Brosnan's Irish good looks make them an attractive couple, but a kid's first Christmas chemistry set has more potential for explosiveness than these two. In the past decade, Ms. Moore has established herself as one of the busiest and most successful actresses in film, with brilliant performances, (Short Cuts, Safe, Boogie Nights, Far From Heaven, The Hours) interspersed with strictly commercial ones, (Assassins, Psycho, Hannibal). Combining delicate features and a heartbreaker's smile with the steely resolve of a champion prizefighter, she's capable of holding an audience's attention in the most mediocre of dramatic material--but she's badly miscast here. When the script calls for a certain charming awkwardness, Moore appears merely clumsy, and her attempts at rapid-fire irony sound whiney rather than haplessly clever. Despite being given some nifty wisecracks in the script, Moore doesn't register as a woman with any sense of humor; Eve Arden or Lucille Ball she's not. Her physical beauty doesn't get in the way; Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey) and Jean Arthur, (The Whole Town's Talking) combined stunning good looks with the kind of frazzled femininity Moore struggles unsuccessfully to bring to life here. Since Brosnan plays Rafferty as James Bond with his tie at perpetual half-mast, Moore gets no help whatsoever from that quarter.

The usually wonderful Parker Posey looks catatonic as the boozy wife of the philandering rocker, and no one else in the cast seems to know just how to handle this material either.

 Verdict? Inoffensive but unappealing; Attraction just doesn't have any.

     

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