Hell if I know what to say about Josh Hartnett’s new movie, Wicker Park, based on the little-seen 1996 French film, L’Appartement. It’s certainly not what one would expect a Josh Hartnett picture to be — there are no raunchy sex jokes, no big explosions, no glossy close-ups or gratuitous shirtless scenes. In fact, the very act of casting Josh Hartnett is a bit of mischievous deceit, further aggravated by the addition of Matthew Lillard — God’s gift to bad movies.
I say deceitful because Wicker Park is neither the lightweight romantic piffle I expected nor is it a particularly bad movie, though attempting to fit it into any particular genre is a hopeless undertaking. The production values suggest indie, while the hokey split-screens hint at shitty thriller. The cheesy accordion music smacks of bad murder mystery, yet the disorienting atmospherics call to mind a slow-paced art house film. And the casting decisions — in addition to Lillard and Hartnett, Wicker Park features Diane Kruger and Rose Byrn from this summer’s Troy — clearly suggests a trashy Cruel Intentions-esque French film update with oversexed young Hollywood starlets. Yet the messy amalgam of elements is perhaps the film’s strongest feature; its incoherence confuses the audience just enough so that we want to stick with it to find out what is actually going on.
When the movie opens, Mathew (Hartnett), a successful ad exec, is on the verge of getting engaged and is about to fly to China to close a big-time business deal. However, we learn through a series of flashbacks that Mathew is still in love with Lisa (Kruger), who inexplicably walked out of his life two years before. While Matthew is in a restaurant talking to his prospective clients, he thinks he sees Lisa. Under the spell of his old obsession, he blows off his trip to China and sets about trying to reconnect with his long-lost love; it is in this pursuit that he falls into one narrative trap after another.
The search feels strangely noir, and we are led to believe that perhaps Lisa is dead, caught up in a sinister affair, or involved in an ominous plot to overthrow the government. As new characters are introduced, and the back story is developed through a series of jarring flashbacks, the layers of secrecy begin to pile up. And though the film starts out slowly (two people on either side of me left after 20 minutes), once the mystery begins to build, it’s hard not to become absorbed in the plot’s psychological intrigue.
The performances aren’t particularly good — Hartnett seems to be repositioning himself as this generation’s geeky Keanu Reeves, and like Keanu, Hartnett’s chiseled blandness is best suited to action roles. Diane Kruger has a sophisticated beauty about her, which lends some needed maturity to Hartnett, but beyond that she is forgettable in this film. The general goofiness of Lillard, which is normally annoying, is somewhat restrained, and at any rate contrasts nicely with the overall bleakness of the movie, effectively adding some much needed comedic relief. Byrn, however, quietly swallows up scenes, exuding the kind of a winsome psychosis — she projects a sort of lovable Shannon Doherty - that makes you want to root for her.
Unfortunately, as the plot twists are played out, and as secrets are revealed, the allure of Wicker Park begins to wear thin. Indeed, once the layers of mystery are peeled away, and the eerie music is replaced by Coldplay, we are left with what I expected when I walked into the theater: a pedestrian romance.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Wicker Park / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()