MGM // 2003 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // March 8th, 2004
They gave in to their deepest desires, but can they overcome their biggest fears?
Coles (Mark Ruffalo) is an aspiring animator living in New York in the fall of 1993. At a party, he meets Sam (Maya Stange). Sensing a potential one-night stand in the makings, he finds that she not only is receptive to the idea but also suggests that her friend Thea (Kathleen Robertson) come along as well. Before you suggest that this is Howard Stern's dream come true, some developments occur and the trio go their separate ways. Ten years later, the three meet up again with some surprise revelations and results.
I know I've made the description of XX/XY sound very vague, but I feel that is the appropriate way to enter this film. Writer/director Austin Chick develops his film on a series of surprises that many critics and news sources have all but given away. I didn't know anything about the film except for the barest of details, and I believe I appreciated it much more in the end. Chick hasn't made a perfect film, but rather a refreshingly honest film that deals with sexuality in ways most American films choose not to. In fact, I was surprised that the MPAA gave it an R rating. Most films dealing honestly with sex often get pigeonholed with the dreaded NC-17 rating while others that treat it as one big joke get a pass. But the NC-17 rating would have been so wrong for XX/XY. It is erotic without being graphically explicit; thoughtful rather than venturing towards gynecological territory.
Another surprising element of Chick's screenplay is his well-drawn and vivid characterizations. I was pleased to see that the often token role of the womanizer's fiancée was fleshed out into a living, breathing human being rather than just a plot mechanization. My only problem with his film is with the ending, which doesn't so much end as that it runs out, leaving a lot of loose ends, all unsatisfying.
The film was made in 2000, before Mark Ruffalo made an impact with the brilliant You Can Count on Me. Since then, he has established himself as one of Hollywood's best character actors, with good work in fine films such as The Last Castle and View from the Top. as well as in disappointments such as Windtalkers and In the Cut. Our film establishes him as a leading man with great potential. He has a difficult role, playing a charming womanizer. Many actors give in to cliché and horrific overacting, but Ruffalo has the unique ability to keep rooted in the reality of the situation. By doing so, his character has a resonance and richness that aids the difficult material he is working with.
Kathleen Robertson has never been taken seriously as an actress since appearing during the down years of 90210. Working in comedies such as Scary Movie 2 couldn't have helped in the eyes of casting directors. Well, I'm here to say that things are going to be very different. Robertson is simply sensational in this difficult dramatic part. Every bit her equal is Maya Stange, an Australian actress making her American debut. Stange hasn't been in the minds of moviegoers since both potential star vehicles (this and Garage Days) were stiffed by their respective studios. Believe me when I tell you that she has a definite future in films, but only if she keeps getting good material to work with and with the full support of the studios. She has range and depth, and is unafraid to look dowdy and plain, as she sometimes does in XX/XY.
MGM has issued XX/XY on DVD with your choice of full frame or 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen on a dual-layered disc. Watching the widescreen version of the film, I couldn't help but notice the odd appearance of the image. For starters, the IFC Films logo that precedes the feature is presented in 2.35:1. Moving onto the feature itself, you'll notice some strange situations. People are often cut off and you get a sense that something important is happening on the other side. The overall image looks very washed out and often grainy. Plus there are those strange pans at various points in the picture. Looking at the end credits and under the technical specs on the Internet Movie Database, I discovered that my suspicions were not without merit. XX/XY was filmed in Panavision, which carries a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There are other bits of evidence. Look at the insert and keep case and you'll see certain shots in the elongated framing Panavision is famous for; then watch the disc and see those same shots massacred. The sole extra, the film's original theatrical trailer is presented in a 2.00:1 frame (closer to scope framing than the soft matte of 1.85:1) as well as a full frame version. The full frame transfer is even worse, accentuating the weaknesses of the cropped widescreen transfer to an even greater degree.
Audio is presented in a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. It sounds clear for the most part and you will have no problems with it. If only the video were the same.
So here I am at a crossroads. Do I recommend XX/XY? It is an extremely well acted film, with many quiet rewards. But MGM has committed a major error by issuing the film in the incorrect aspect ratio. Perhaps the best recommendation I can make is to rent the disc solely to see the film.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic (cropped from the 2.35:1 original aspect ratio)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer