Ambivalently Ever After

Columbus Alive | August 4, 2005
Within the first few minutes of Don Roos’ latest “comedy, sort of,” the writer/director delivers on his title, accompanying a shot of Lisa Kudrow after being hit by a car with a half-screen title card announcing, “She’s not dead.”

Like his previous work, The Opposite of Sex, Roos’ tale is dipped in acid, but only the dialogue is corrosive, drawing in the cynic who’d sniff at the promise of one happy ending, much less multiples. At heart, both are pure escapist entertainment.

The beginning is actually the end, and the film unfolds in flashbacks leading up to the accident. Kudrow is Mamie, an L.A. abortion clinic counselor troubled by memories of the son she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. Out of the blue, she’s contacted by Nicky (Jesse Bradford), who claims to know her son’s identity and whereabouts, but refuses to give her the information unless she agrees to let him film the reunion for a documentary. She refuses, but offers an alternative subject in exchange: her Latino lover Javier (Bobby Cannavale), a masseur who claims to be a sex worker for the bored wives of Beverly Hills.

Meanwhile, Mamie’s stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan) somehow becomes convinced that the son of his lover Gil’s (David Sutcliffe) lesbian best friend Pam (Laura Dern) is not the product of an anonymous sperm donor, but is actually Gil’s. And Otis (Jason Ritter), a young, sexually confused employee of Charley’s, meets Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) at karaoke and invites her to join his band. After the first practice, she seduces him, then goes after his father Frank (Tom Arnold), a sweet, lonely and very rich widower.

Roos does create some truly novel onscreen relationships and familial connections, and several members of the cast service these particularly well. As she was in Opposite of Sex, Kudrow is hard, sharp and funny. Cannavale gives some depth to his cartoon part and Coogan connects in spite of Charley’s less attractive qualities.

Most surprising is the genuine chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Arnold, the two best reasons to buy a ticket. Arnold wholeheartedly embodies the most resonantly human character in the film, while Gyllenhaal’s powerful, unusual singing voice makes even Billy Joel sound appealing.

As the sprawling plot plays out, however, those title cards that were at first so comforting become props for parts of the story that are too weak to stand unassisted. And though the title prepares a viewer for the conclusion, I wasn’t ready to be reminded of Ron Howard’s Parenthood; both movies send audiences off with shots of the ensemble cast smiling in slow-mo.

Roos, like Christina Ricci’s scheming, pregnant teen in Opposite of Sex, both mocks and succumbs to convention, torn between the desire to challenge and the need to reassure and find acceptance. Usually, those traits work better for characters than filmmakers.

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Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
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