Lionsgate // 2002 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // September 30th, 2002
Love. Sex. And everything in between.
In this film by writer/director/cinematographer Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her), ten women offer up monologues that lay bare their personal experiences and hang-ups regarding love, sex, and intimacy. The monologues run anywhere from 4 to 20 minutes and are focused on lost relationships from the respective women's pasts.
Ironically, the film's greatest strength -- the screenplay -- is also its greatest weakness. What works is the way the individual monologues, when viewed together, resonate with one another to explore all sorts of connections between love, sex, fidelity, death, happiness, dreams, brokenness, control and subordination, self-centeredness and self-sacrifice, the often conflicting female desires to be entirely autonomous on the one hand and connected to a man as the singular love of his life on the other. These themes are woven through the film with an almost poetic density. While it's true that at times Garcia stumbles into cliché, he also manages little moments that ring true.
The problem is that the writing is fit for the printed page but is frequently difficult to take seriously as off-the-cuff ruminations by a real live human being. This is not to say it's written in a heightened vernacular, but that the richness of its detail often feels more literary that conversational. There are too many tangential details that serve only to establish setting and influence the ebb and flow of the woman's story but fail to contribute meaning or understanding. This is because Garcia is attempting to do something in film that is really better left to literature. If this were a collection of short stories, they would read both as monologues and vignettes. There's an old rule one learns in Creative Writing 101: show the reader, don't tell him. As literature, these monologues would succeed both as told and shown stories because, as readers, we're accustomed to creating images in our minds as a response to words on a page. It doesn't matter whether those words are coming directly from the author of the story, or from a character inside it. The film's monologues are written, as a short story would be, to entice images from our minds -- but this is film, so there are already images for us to see. They are, unfortunately, static shots of actors speaking into the camera. I would've felt much more entertained if I'd seen the scenes the actors were describing played out dramatically before me -- of course that would have increased the budget significantly, and made the film less arty. As it stands, the actors' performances are too mannered, reminding one of workshop monologue readings. Some are better than others, but none feel completely real. Lisa Gay Hamilton (Jackie Brown) and Deborah Unger (The Salton Sea) are particular standouts, and Kathy Baker (Picket Fences) is also impressive. The fact that even the best of the performances is nothing to write home about tells me the fault is with the material and not the actors.
As I said above, the cinematography in this film couldn't be more basic: the actors are shot right, left, or center in the frame and there is zero camera movement. Numbered title cards divide the monologues. The DVD presentation is sharp as a tack and very natural in terms of skin tones. Blacks are deep. There's not much in the way of grain, and I didn't see any edge enhancement. Audio is plain stereo, but it's almost entirely dialogue so I'm not sure it would've sounded much different if it'd been mixed to two-channel mono. Rest assured, you'll be able to hear every word spoken.
Do I recommend the DVD? Nope. If you're curious, you might think about renting. I can't say it was an unpleasant viewing experience, but once was enough. Maybe I'd be more enthusiastic if Garcia had put together a short film called Two Tiny Love Stories. Maybe not.
Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Commentary