Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unfaithful

Discounting his 1976 short ‘Mr Smith’ and 1990’s ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ as exceptions to the rule, there’s a definite thematic through-line to Adrian Lyne’s work as a director. Here’s a list of his films, accompanied by a thumbnail synopsis and a brief encapsulation of the subtext:

‘Foxes’ – in which a group of teens experience growing pains/rites of passage/sexual maturity. Subtext: if it’s pleasurable, you pay for it.

‘Flashdance’ – in which a welder pursues a second career as an exotic dancer (occasioning the classic ‘Full Monty’ line “hope she dances better than she welds – them joints won’t hold fuck all”). Subtext: ‘woman in a man’s world’ as a cloak for sexual objectification a-go-go.

‘9½ Weeks’ – in which repressed woman meets shag-happy but dangerously unpredictable stranger. Subtext: if it’s pleasurable, you pay for it.

‘Fatal Attraction’ – in which a rumpled middle-aged bloke married to the eternally gorgeous Anne Archer inexplicably decides to indulge in a bit on the side with a demented bunny-boiler. Subtext: dumb bastard had it coming.

‘Indecent Proposal’ – in which a hard-up couple agree to a $1 million/one night/one off carnal agreement with a rumpled middle-aged über-rich bloke. Subtext: sleeping around isn’t good for your marriage.

‘Lolita’ – in which a rumpled middle-aged academic gets hot under the collar for a somewhat-under-the-age-of-consent nymphet. Subtext: this kind of behaviour is a really bad idea. Seriously. Don’t go there.

‘Unfaithful’ – in which the wife of a rumpled middle-aged boring corporate dude does the wild thing with a hunky Latino bookshop owner and all manner of complications ensue. Subtext: sleeping around isn’t good for your marriage.

So, in summation, the World According to Adrian Lyne operates on the fundamental principle that fornication is the venal curse of the human race and only regret, recrimination and disharmony can ever come of it.

Which should make Adrian Lyne the most presbyterian director in the history of cinema. Except that he revels in it. ‘9½ Weeks’ in particular comes across as little more than a Zalman King (who co-wrote ‘9½ Weeks’) or an A. Gregory Hippolyte production but with a bigger budget. A case could be made that King and Hippolyte are more honest in that they acknowledge the sexual content of their films as the raison d’être and – with the possible exception of Sherilyn Fenn’s weepily confused heroine in ‘Two Moon Junction’ – depict it as pleasurable.

There’s a whiff of hypocrisy to Lyne’s work. Whereas European directors depict sex as natural and erotic (Julio Medem’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Sex and Lucia’ is an ideal example), sometimes complicated and maybe destructive, but always pleasurable, Lyne wants to have his cake and eat it. Or rather have his soft focus trouser-arouser scenes and make his characters pay for them.

‘Unfaithful’ would be easy to dismiss but for Diane Lane. If she transcends the material in ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, she positively reclaims it here.

The stand-out scene takes place before Constance (Lane) has even embarked on her affair with Paul (Oliver Martinez). So torn-up with guilt just for visiting him (even though nothing, at this point, happens between them), she goes to see her husband Ed (Richard Gere) at his office and takes him a gift she’s just bought. They talk but Ed breaks off to take a phone call, during the course of which he throws his toys out of the pram and harshly berates a flunkey. The reaffirmation Constance has been looking for crumbles as Ed shows his true colours. Lane communicates the emotional crux of the scene through her eyes and it’s a good, subtle piece of acting.

‘Unfaithful’ isn’t all that much of a film, nor is Lyne all that much of a director (he shoots everything in the bland tightly-framed style of a commercial for designer kitchens), but he fell on his feet with his leading lady.

4 comments:

Meeg said...

Blech, don't get me start on Lyne's second-rate Lolita.

I did enjoy Unfaithful though mostly because of Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez.

Neil Fulwood said...

Yeah, Lane makes it. I think that's why I decided to do the Diane-fest. The lady has a lot of second-rate stuff on her CV, but she shines like a diamond in virtually everything she does.

You're right about Martinez, as well. I should have given him more of a shout in the write-up. He's cool, charming, unpredictable ... and he and Lane play off each other so well.

Phoned in performance from Richard Gere, though.

J.D. said...

Hands down Diane Lane's best performance and I really felt that she was robbed at that year's Oscars. Sadly, I have a feeling that she won't get another substantial role like that again.

Neil Fulwood said...

Unfortunately, you might be right. Which is a bloody tragedy, but Hollywood has never fully made use of Diane Lane's talents. Sad that, say, Susan Sarandon nabbed so many showy roles and Lane has generally been relegated to such indifferent fare as 'Untraceable'.