Laws of Attraction (review)

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Odd Couple

Oh, the promise! For just a minute there, they tease us with the prospect of something sophisticated and witty. Sure, it’s only the opening credits that ignite that spark of hope — images that pulse with the heat and the vitality of New York City — but a smart city gal has to take her hope where she can, when she’s had enough of women behaving like little girls (hello, 13 Going on 30!) or gay men (hello, Sex and the City!) and wants to just see something resembling her own complicated, messy, grown-up life frothed up into a silly romantic comedy. Could it be? With a duo like lovely continental Pierce Brosnan and classy dame Julianne Moore, and now this urbane opening, could it be that we’re in for something luscious and screwball and scrumptiously old-fashioned, Cary Grant meets Katharine Hepburn in the 21st century?
Of course not. That would require a script that aspires to more than awkward running gags that start out as illuminating snatches of characterization and don’t know where to stop, more than the gal taking ungraceful pratfalls serving as the height of wit: She’s thrown off balance by the guy! Get it?

I clung to the hope for a little while, for Brosnan (Die Another Day, Evelyn) is, as always, effortlessly, devastatingly charming as famous divorce lawyer Daniel Rafferty, and Moore (The Hours, Far from Heaven) is all delicious icy cool as another famous divorce lawyer, Audrey Miller, and they individually rise above the petty rom-com crap they’re dealt: Audrey’s a secret eater, sugar her “crutch,” and Moore must handle the indignity of hiding in a bathroom stall surreptitiously snarfing down a pink Sno Ball like she’s snorting coke. Brosnan fares a little better as an actor, but only because the worst affront Daniel must face is an illogical shift from being a bit of a disaster in the neatness arena — his clothes and his office are a mess — to suddenly being quite a bit neater (once the sloppiness has been played for as much humor as is possible, at least in this humor-bereft scenario). Apart from this sartorial inconsistency, Daniel is perfect: intelligent, clever, funny, magnetic, gorgeous, irresistible.

Irresistible except to Audrey, who has no trouble resisting him, thank you very much. Or at least no trouble telling herself she doesn’t find him irresistible. And that’s where it starts to grate. That’s where a smart gal who’s been pretending to ignore the cartoonish oppositeness of Audrey and Daniel — she’s anal, he’s a slob; pretending to ignore that faint whiff of Odd Couple that’s clinging to the edges — can two divorce attorneys who’re primally sexually attracted to each other share a courtroom without driving each other crazy?; pretending to ignore the sheer dearth of whipsmart banter she so desperately was looking for… that’s where she gets the overwhelming urge to leap to her feet and smack some sense into that Audrey girl. My God, woman, can you not see what a catch he is?

And then, for no discernible reason, we’re in Ireland. Oh, there’s an explanation, about having to take depositions in a divorce case they’re working opposite sides of, the breakup of a rock star (Michael Sheen: Timeline, Underworld) and his fashion designer wife (Parker Posey: A Mighty Wind, The Event); ownership of a castle is disputed. But if there is only shaky legal footing for the trip across the pond, the story footing is even more dubious, and involves throwing Audrey and Daniel into a rushed marriage. Yes. Marriage.

Yeah, the shift in tone is that abrupt, from failing pseudoscrewball to some sort of newfangled on-the-road, aren’t-the-locals-charming, let’s-do-it, let’s-fall-in-love movie. Sensibility really goes out the window now — everything from “How does Audrey get stranded in some tiny rural Irish town and why didn’t her assistant book her a rental car at Dublin Airport?” to “Why can’t she just admit, after sleeping with yummy Daniel for the second time, that she at least thinks he’s kinda cute?”

But no: Everything ends up forced into an clumsy corner, where Audrey finally submits to Daniel by eating her own words: “80 percent of women,” she says sweetly to him, “who say they’re too busy for a relationship are just lonely.” Which she’s been denying vehemently all along as having noting to do with her busy life or her rejection of Daniel (except for those two lovely nights in his bed). Of course, she never said this to Daniel — the poor guy’s probably never heard such claptrap before, and he’s probably starting to wonder just what sort of lunatic he’s hitched his wagon to.

At that point, we exit. She’s his problem now.

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