erasing clouds

Wicker Park: Obsession for Men

review by matthew webber

Wicker Park is a romantic thriller for The Butterfly Effect generation. Like this year's "serious" Ashton Kutcher vehicle, the plot of Wicker Park moves backwards and forwards in time, with each twist opening another hole to fill. It's not as twisty-turny as a film noir whodunit, and it's not a trick-ending piece like an M. Night Shyamalan picture. Although the plot is not something a 13-year-old Josh Hartnett fan couldn't grasp, it's not the type of thing a reviewer should give away; it's not something you should know or think about too much about beforehand. Indeed, blissful ignorance is the best way to enjoy this movie, which can best be described as "worth a matinee viewing" and "not bad."

Basically, what happens is Matthew, a former aspiring photographer and current engaged yuppie played by Hartnett, thinks he overhears the voice of the One Who Got Away in a restaurant. Foregoing a business trip to China and possibly his wedding, he tries to track down his long-lost love in her old apartment, a hotel room, and the restaurant, where he leaves her a note with his name and number. Basically, he becomes a stalker - which we learn in flashback is his wooing M.O., since he met her by following her to a dance class and into his friend's shoe store. He breaks into rooms, takes trinkets, and smells her clothes.

But are they really Lisa's clothes, or do they belong to this woman who lives in Lisa's old apartment who is also named Lisa? And which one should Matthew pursue? As one of the characters even says, "The plot thickens…"

Since Hartnett's character is the main character, and since he's not a woman, his obsession is supposed to make us identify with him. Who among us hasn't loved so deeply we've broken into our ex's house? the movie asks. We also know he's a good guy because he's played by a heartthrob. Plus, his best friend thinks he's cool.

Once we finally see some flashback scenes featuring dialogue, we can start to understand that he actually talked to this girl instead of just peeping. And, by the end of the movie, we can start to root for him, because there's someone else - another girl! - who's crazier than he is. In fact, his buddy calls her a "psycho." I'm making this sound a lot more horrible than it is, but a gender-studies reading of this film would not be favorable.

German-born Diane Kruger is sexy but cold as the old flame, Lisa, although she's warmer here than she was in Troy. Partly because she's unburdened by speeches of war, it's easier to believe her pretty face could at least launch one ship. Matthew Lillard plays the buddy, Luke, as the same hyperactive goof he always plays.

And Hartnett is his usual brooding self, with his coal-black, squinty eyes that unfortunately don't emote. Even when he's rejoicing in love he looks sullen, like he'd just as soon exit some smoky interior as gaze longingly into your eyes over candlelight. But he possesses some everyman charm, as they say, so he's easier to relate to than some toothy former Abercrombie model.

If nothing I've written so far screams "see this movie," Australian-born newcomer Rose Byrne's performance as Lisa's friend Alex should. She plays her emotions subtly, yet the rawest and most realistically of all. Alex is the character I cared about the most, especially during the times when the other characters couldn't have cared less about her. Her performance hurts in all the best ways.

Near the end, one of the major characters says, "I'm not who you think I am," but the conflict of the movie is where the characters think they are. Wicker Park is a reversed Missed Connections ad, where the person is known but the place is what is missing. Thus, connections continue to be missed.

With its focus on the pursuit of love and the refusal to let it die, Wicker Park draws comparisons to another film from earlier this year, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In both, old loves are haunting and worth not forgetting. Although images, performances, music, ideas, and pretty much everything in Eternal Sunshine continue to haunt me, sadly, the lack of humor in Wicker Park and its one-sided portrayal of love make it not worth remembering for long.

Issue 26, September 2004

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