Though Judge Diane Wild was seeking romantic comedy, all she got was sentimental levity.
Love always has the last word.
Romantic comedies are often maligned, dismissed as "chick flicks." But for this chick, there's nothing like the guilty pleasure of a well-made example of the genre. Laws of Attraction could have been a contender. There's comedic and romantic potential in the concept of beautiful leads playing divorce lawyers who accidentally get married. But attractive actors with a promising premise and an insipid script do not make for a convincing win.
Facts of the Case
Divorce lawyer Audrey Woods (Julianne Moore, The Hours) is a loveable neurotic who has sworn off relationships. Her nemesis is rumpled but highly successful lawyer Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan, The Thomas Crown Affair), who doesn't let the fact that he's fallen for her get in the way of beating her in court.
This being a romantic comedy, you can probably guess what happens next: she takes an instant dislike to him but is secretly attracted, they are thrown together in unlikely circumstances, and, well, if you've been living in a cave and have never seen an example of the genre before, I don't want to ruin the ending for you.
But before the happily ever after (darn, did I just give it away?), they find themselves on opposing sides of a high-profile divorce case. Audrey represents rock star Thorne Jamison (Michael Sheen, Underworld), while Daniel fights on the side of the wife, fashion designer Serena (Parker Posey, The Anniversary Party). Their settlement comes down to who gets their castle in Ireland. This provides a convenient opportunity for Audrey and Daniel to cross the ocean and get cute in Brosnan's native land (he executive produced the movie, too). After a night of binge drinking at a town festival, they wake up in bed to find themselves married.
To save their reputations back home in New York, they pretend to be a real couple, much to the delight of Audrey's mother (Frances Fisher, House of Sand and Fog), who has been prodding her daughter to realize that what she's missing in her life is, of course, a man. And if the man in question is Pierce Brosnan, I say there has to be something else missing if a woman doesn't immediately succumb to his charms. So will she or won't she? I'll never tell.
There are few more gorgeous couples than Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Besides her radiant beauty, Moore is one of the finest actresses working today…though she hasn't quite convinced me of her comedic talents yet (I present as evidence Nine Months and Evolution). Brosnan has proven himself more than just a pretty face in challenging roles (cases in point: The Tailor of Panama and Evelyn).
The plot borrows heavily from the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy classic Adam's Rib. Director Peter Howitt has done fine work with another, more unconventional romantic comedy, 1998's Sliding Doors. He also directed Johnny English, but we'll ignore that for now.
So how did this movie end up so bland and uninspired, with few laughs and little spark between the leads? I'm blaming the script by Aline Brosh McKenna, of Three to Tango fame, and her cowriter Robert Harling.
The plot is foiled when Audrey and Daniel fall into bed too quickly, after a night of binge drinking soon after they meet. The characters themselves know too soon that they are attracted to each other, making Audrey's protests and Daniel's tardiness in declaring his affection pointless. Then they get married too late in the film, when that's the marketable plot twist used in all the commercials and trailers. We know it's going to happen, so the build up grows tedious.
The beginning of the movie is hampered by not-very-insightful ramblings about marriage. Daniel doesn't believe in divorce—he thinks couples should put their fighting energy into making a marriage work. Audrey doesn't believe in marriage. She fears commitment after seeing so many divorces up close, and can't admit even to herself that she wants a relationship. The contrast is obvious early on, but the movie believes we need several conversations to understand their positions.
Laws of Attraction comes to life (a little) with the setting change to Ireland. When Audrey and Daniel get lost in the woods searching for the contentious castle, then spend a platonic night in a trailer to wait for daylight, there are some funny moments. "Let's be honest, you were lost until I came along," Daniel says at one point, then adds: "Ooh, slightly metaphorical."
At this point the script goes for tenderness as well. When Audrey frets that Daniel will sneak out to find the castle without her, she warns: "Don't you leave me." "Never," the smitten Daniel wistfully responds to her sleeping back.
If these moments come across as neither funny nor romantic, you have understood the problem with this particular romantic comedy. Moore and Brosnan imbue some charm into so-so lines, but they can't completely save the film. Even genuinely funny moments, such as an early comment about Audrey's Weather Channel obsession, are beaten into submission through constant repetition.
Nora Dunn adds snarky fun to her role as a judge, but Parker Posey seems to have devolved from indie queen to demented supporting character in mediocre romantic comedies (additional evidence: You've Got Mail).
Casting Frances Fisher, who is eight years older than Julianne Moore, as her mother is slightly ridiculous. Granted, she's supposed to be a plastic surgery addict, but how hard could it be to find an age-appropriate actress in Hollywood who's been under the knife? That objection aside, Fisher puts some heart into the sexpot older woman role whose fabulousness has somehow overshadowed her daughter's obvious beauty.
Laws of Attraction is presented in both anamorphic widescreen and pan and scan. Of course widescreen is the wise option, but I can't argue against choice for those poor souls who remain unconvinced. The transfer is clean, but contrast is diluted, making flesh tones appear slightly washed out. A defect appears in one shot on my DVD, when brownish bars appear above and below the widescreen image, between the scene and the normal black space.
There are both Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and stereo surround sound tracks, but the movie doesn't take real advantage of either. Still, the dialogue is crisp and a brief concert scene will give your speakers a workout.
A bad script and little chemistry in a romantic comedy should spell absolute failure. But Brosnan and Moore are separately so engaging in the movie that they won me over…a little. Laws of Attraction should offer mild entertainment to fans of the genre who maintain low expectations. I would put this on my list to rent when the mood strikes, but it's not a must-have for any collection.
Laws of Attraction is guilty of impersonating a romantic comedy. However the court will show some lenience due to the extenuating attractiveness of the leads. All are free to go.
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