To Aaron Is Human ...

Washington City Paper | September 18, 2006
Hans Canosa’s Conversations With Other Women takes some getting used to. A split screen is employed throughout the film. Dialogue, by his writing partner on 2002’s Alma Mater, Gabrielle Zevin, is sometimes too clever, too precious, and too analytical. And the entire movie is about a wedding hookup, its two lead characters essentially the only people with whom we get to spend 84 minutes.

But give it a chance. What immediately begins as a deceptively simple story about a horndog and a bored bridesmaid escaping for some quiet while others revel in the next room blossoms into one that not only demands attention but also may become more rewarding with repeated viewings. Almost immediately we meet the unnamed man (Aaron Eckhart) and melancholy woman (Helena Bonham Carter), whose small talk includes their ages and what she’s doing here if she’s so miserable (turns out she was initially uninvited until the bride, an estranged friend, had a member of her wedding party bail). Then the conversation goes deeper, into relationships and “history”—“mine is a sad, dull, real-people kind,” the woman tells him—and we discover that she is currently married but once divorced, and he is also divorced and now casually dating a much younger dancer whom the woman repeatedly refers to as “23 on August the 12th.” With an obvious sexual attraction, it seems inevitable the two will end up in bed, despite the woman’s constant wavering and sometimes-irritating psychobabble such as, “If we go in [the hotel room], we’re committing to a course of action.”

Zevin smoothly transforms Conversations With Other Women from an anonymous one-night stand into a lovely rumination on carrying torches, settling for innocuous but passionless relationships, and the possibility of loneliness no matter what your romantic status. In Before Sunrise/Before Sunset style, there’s not much action but a whole lot of talking, most of it natural and witty but some of it achingly poetic. “There’s something about you that sends me,” the man tells her. He imagines them as a long-term couple, saying that he would take care of her even in old age: “I’ll walk you and water you and feed you.” The split screen is initially annoying but begins to make sense, as each character is on either side, isolated despite their usual nearness and only occasionally entering the other frame with an elbow or such. Canosa will now and then use half of his division to show a young couple, which is also distracting but eventually intriguing once you become accustomed to it. Finally, the frames are used for different takes of the same scenes, with the pair’s emotions and reactions varying.

Eckhart and Bonham Carter are gorgeous and impressively casual in their roles, respectful of the subtleties the script calls for throughout the night. His character is the puppy to her bridesmaid’s seemingly impervious yet heavyhearted voice of reason. When she somewhat unconvincingly states, “There are no happy endings in our future,” he doesn’t quite buy it, either. And as Conversations With Other Women concludes, at just the right time, you get the feeling that neither of them ever will.

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