How can you possibly find true love if you lead two lives at once?
Demi Moore, in what has been tabbed her "comeback" (I can't say I realized she had been on hiatus), has chosen a film whose premise fits nicely into at least three genre boxes. By back-of-box-blurb, one would believe that Passion of Mind is a drama, a spellbinding mystery, and (with a little imagination) a romantic sci-fi flick a la Somewhere in Time. Director Alain Berliner (Ma Vie En Rose, Le Mur) and screenwriters Ron Bass (Snow Falling on Cedars, Stepmom) and David Field (Amazing Grace and Chuck) seem to have it all here: a chick flick with a premise even the men may stick around to watch.
Unfortunately, like many films that strive to stretch their own boundaries, Passion of Mind stumbles well short of its ambitions.
Facts of the Case
Martha Marie Talridge (Demi Moore) is a widowed mother of two living somewhere in the typically breathtaking French countryside. A literary critic, her life is simple and idyllic. Each night, after she has locked herself into her bedroom, she finds the relative peacefulness of her daily existence replaced by a harried, lonely second life as Martha Marie Talridge, literary agent and single woman of New York City. It seems that Marie (as she is known to her daughters) is actually leading two lives, one that begins as the other rests its weary head in slumber.
Sure, Marie has a psychiatrist (as does Marty, the big city version of Marie), and yes, he informs her that it is impossible for her to be leading two distinct lives. Problem is, she knows this. The crux of the crisis lies in her inability to realize which life is real, and which is a creation of her nocturnal noodle.
The soup really starts to boil, however, when each of her personalities becomes engaged in a love affair. In France, Marie is wooed by William Granther (Stellan Skarsgård), an author she once panned in print. Back in the Big Apple, Marty becomes fascinated with an accountant, Aaron Riley (William Fichtner). Alas, as a woman with two lives, such situations soon become rather sticky.
As both of these men attempt to knit their lives into hers, Marie/Marty finds herself unable to choose not only between her existences, but also between which companions to fill them. She is straightforward, letting them know (against the wishes of her psychiatrists) of her "condition" and kindly admitting that while her waking hours may be spent with one of them, her nightlife is fulfilled by the love the other.
Into an already confusing narrative you may now toss a symbolic statue, a rather goofy dream/nightmare/I'm-not-sure-what-it-is sequence, and a poorly devised explanatory conclusion: aloha, it's Passion of Mind.
I won't deny my displeasure with this film. Having never been much of (okay, drop the "much of") a Demi Moore fan, I suppose the cards are already marked and hidden under the table, but I swear, I gave it a chance. I'll even admit that the opening narration (complete with a shot of what is most likely the ugliest statue I have ever seen in a movie, including Don Johnson) piqued my curiosity with its promise of lurid ridiculousness. I was sort of hoping for a trashy, Douglas Sirk melodrama with some spicy love and memorable boudoir monologues, but ended up with a muddled and mysteriously empty 105 minutes of "huh"?
Ms. Moore is not bad here. She is not good either, and this may be the catalyst to what went wrong. Playing a character with two personalities may be a noble and actorly thing to attempt, unfortunately it is also difficult. I had a hard time discerning between her two characters. Granted, they are the same person, so playing the roles in a like manner makes sense, but I would expect at least a touch of character nuance to separate them. The structure of the film is also bruised by this lack of life.
Passion of Mind possesses a very tedious skeleton, to these eyes. Essentially, everything Marie does, Marty does in the next scene. It makes for monotonous viewing. I am not sure how many more examples of the "this really is the same person with dual lives" idea could be smashed into my head. I caught on when Marie explained her situation to the Viennese shrink (don't get me started…the writers felt it necessary to toss out an ironic joke to prove they knew how clichéd a Viennese psychiatrist was…then, if you missed that, he was referred to as Dr. Freud three times) at the beginning of the film. An hour later, the scenario was still being explained, instead of exploited.
Actually, the entire idea of dual lives is pretty much tossed out of frame for most of the film. Certainly, Marty/Marie are aware of one another, and make others aware of them, but no plot development truly takes advantage of this interesting scenario. Too much time is wasted with the courting and the candlelit rooms (I suppose in another, no-movies-allowed dimension these provide a sense of atmosphere) while the real treasure of the screenplay flits in and out of the story; a crazed reminder of what should have been.
Video and audio are both excellent. The picture was fantastic, crisp and lifelike with no noticeable anything (although I wouldn't expect any less from a moderately budgeted 2000 film). I am having some problems with my rears (hold the wisecracks, oh reader) but still found myself impressed with the overall sound design. The content, on the other hand, left a fairly sour ringing in my ears. The score (Randy Edelman) was very well suited to the film; a bit meandering and altogether too stringy-sappy for my tastes (as an aside, I must admit I expected a separate theme for each character and was surprised to find that a central musical motif served them both). I must congratulate Paramount on the quality of their recent transfers. Ignoring their inconsistent inclusion of extras, I'd have to highly praise the product they've been delivering.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Passion of Mind is not a complete loss. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra is, at times, remarkable in a glossy home decor mag sort of way, and everyone performs passably thespian-wise. I was truly intrigued by the premise for a few minutes, and the disc really does look and sound fantastic. I just can't recommend its content.
Demi Moore seems to have built up a bit of integrity in the off-season, for this film is a step away from popcorn and multiplexes, but I will have to pass. It may be a decent rental for couples, but the fact that my wife did not enjoy this film any more than I did prevents me from advising any further.
Demi Moore is placed on prohibition until she truly demonstrates her devotion to less mainstream films. The writers are sentenced to work for scale until they have proven themselves worthy of the "screen" prefix. Paramount is acquitted, for now.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
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