Unfaithful

Starring:
  • Cherry Valance
  • Not Antonio Banderas
  • The Gray Face of Hollywood Buddhism

 

Directed By Lolita

"Oh Miss Wilkes, you certainly are showing up!"

Fatal Attraction In the Bedroom

The idea is straight from the Penthouse "Forum": Your everyday housewife, still with a knock-out body after ten years of marriage, does something "I never thought would never happen to me." This being Adrian Lyne, director of 9 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and 1994 Razzie Winner Indecent Proposal, it all starts innocently enough. Connie Sumner, breezing through Soho, gets knocked over in a gale. She skins her knee and is helped out by a handsome Hispanic bookseller named Paul Martel. Connie comes up to his apartment for band-aids and coffee, and perhaps to buy a book of poetry or two; next thing you know, Paul is Paying It Forward—judging by Connie's yelps, I'd say he's paying it about eight inches forward.

Why is Connie so anxious to jump in the sack with a mysterious loner, especially one who resembles a porno pool boy? Well, for starters, Connie's marriage is one of those flat suburban co-inhabitations that imply an over-settling since the couple's hippie days. Connie's husband Edward is soft as a down pillow: He speaks barely above a whisper, helps his son with his homework, and takes a genuine interest in his wife's charity work. In fact, Unfaithful works best when Diane Lane and Richard Gere explore this dynamic of their characters. They create a couple that I imagine would grow to be Tom Wilkenson and Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom, only this time Diane Lane would be the playful one, with Richard Gere as the uptight pragmatist. Adrian Lyne shoves the camera right into their faces and lets them search for the expressions that define a relationship of failing communication. This is Richard Gere's best performance in years; his pacifism gives Edward a gentleness that is endearing, yet it's easy to see how the act would grow old on Connie—and it is an act: Edward has a tendency to boil over at work, much to the dismay of his wife. Perhaps it's this fire that led Connie to him in the first place. And as for Connie, the natural screen presence of Diane Lane is a perfect fit: a warm, homely persona begging unleash itself on the male id.

It's all for not, though. Olivier Martinez turns Paul, the sexy French bookseller, into an impression of a guy playing a sexy Hispanic. In other words, he's a couple quarts low of machismo. He seems confused by what to do with Diane Lane. He invites her up to the apartment, obviously trying to get her into bed, and the best he can do is offer her a trip through his maze of books to read a couple lines of poetry. If anything, Diane Lane is too sexy for him: She's very warm and sensual, while Olivier plays the role like a bandit. I couldn't figure out why a woman as savvy as Connie would fall for this guy. Relatively speaking, John Redcorn from "King of the Hill" is less of a stereotype. And we have to deal with some of the worst lines of the year: "Your eyes are so beautiful. You should never shut them. You should sleep with your eyes open." coupled with "There's no such thing as a mistake. There's what you do and what you don't do." Goodness, that is persuasive. Martinez gives the impression that he's reading his lines off cue cards, and the director had to break them down into six word sentences just so he could remember them. I began to think it best if Horatio Sans and Jimmy Fallon's mariachi band would show up, screaming "You're too sexy, Olivier! Too sexy!"

William Broyles, Jr.'s screenplay (Cast Away, Planet of the Apes) tries to go after the idea that underneath Connie's kind mother lays a masochist. Edward has repressed his violence at home, which has drained their sex life, and somehow Paul senses that Connie is turned on by his aggressiveness. He asks her to hit him hard in the face, and at one point he even rapes her—it would be a rape, I guess, if Connie didn't embrace it about half way through. If you can't already tell, this movie, like the entire Adrian Lyne canon, hates women. Morally, Paul is little more than a Faustian bargain with a five o'clock shadow and washboard abs, a Mephistopheles of machismo. Connie bites the apple and basically becomes irrelevant to the story: Later, we're made to cheer for Edward's revenge fantasy after he goes crazy, a justification of repressed male rage that almost equates Connie's cheating with Satan himself. Without giving away too much of the plot, the character-driven first half of the film (much of it dedicated to the wonderful scenes of Lane and Gere tiptoeing around the truth), gives way to a plot-driven second half that resembles the overwrought histrionics of In the Bedroom. If you didn't buy the third act of that film (which neither JimmyO or I did), then Unfaithful will be downright laughable.

But even more laughable is the Obvious Symbolism, as if the director and screenwriter gave these descriptions because they couldn't sort out the story. Connie's full name is "Constance." Edward's business is a "Security" truck company. Paul takes Connie to see erotic French films. And the list goes on. I'm tempted to rate this film higher solely because Diane Lane is such an underutilized actress. She throws everything into this role, and had this character been in a different film with a different director, it would be worthy of talking about come awards time. Perhaps I'm being too hard on Lyne; he seems to know how effective Lane is in the role. Her initial romp with Paul is told through flashback on the train ride home, the sex intercut with her reactions to what she's done. Lane passes through ecstasy, regret, laughter, guilt, embarrassment, and empowerment all within four minutes, without a single word. It's great stuff, and Richard Gere is as good as he's been in years. But in the final analysis, the movie is still an almost archetypal instance of Adrian Lyne misogyny, so it gets the following pitch:

The Pitch:
 
Fatal Attraction
Plus
 
In the Bedroom
Plus
 
Antonio Banderas
Equals
   
1 Unfaithful
See It For:
Richard finds out that Gore cashed the Buddhist monks' campaign contribution for his private party with Tom Petty and Jon Bon Jovi.