Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Man behaving badly, Messina acting well, in Dana Adam Shapiro's dark-ish MONOGAMY

Look up undersung in your dictionary and there will not (but there should) be a head shot of actor Chris Messina as the prime visual example. This always on-the-mark performer fuses with such certainty to each character he plays -- from the goofy Mr. Right in Ira & Abby to the troubling "pot" grower in Humbolt County to the by-the-book detective in Devil -- even blending beautifully and believably into the wallpaper when required (Julie & Julia), that probably only real film buffs jump at the chance to see him tackle a new role. We know who he is. And we love him. If this chameleon ability has the unintended result of keeping a fine actor unheralded for far too long, I guess we can live with that (whether Messina can is another matter).

Here he is again (laughing, below, left, and engrossed, at bottom of post) in MONOGAMY, the new film from Dana Adam Shapiro (shown at right), creating a full-bodied character -- a photographer named Theo -- whom we can love, hate, identify with and finally want to give a hard kick in the ass. Why? Because we're back again, as ever, with the guy who just can't grow up, take responsibility, or be honest with himself (let alone others). The recipient of Theo's diddling is his fiancee Nat (Rashida Jones, below, right). And while we can see from the start of the film that all is not right on either end of this relationship (do you know of any relationship in which everything is running smoothly?), it seems clear within a very few scenes that Theo has the lion's share of growing-up to do.

Whether or not you'll gladly tag along as our non-hero does or does not manage this may depend on just how many movies of this kind you will have by now encountered. For TrustMovies, Monogamy proved at least one too many, despite the fine work of Messina and Jones, and of their supporting cast, and of Mr. Shapiro, as well -- who has worked hard to supply some interesting plot detail, such as it is.

Some of this involves Nat's attempts at songwriting and perfor-mance, but most of our time is spent with Theo and his photog-raphy.  He does pre-wedding shots (above) as his day job but his real love seems to be photographing people who either want their photos taken semi-anonymously or who may not know they're being shot. One of these is a cute blond with the internet name of Subgirl (Meital Dohan, below), whose activities we follow to distraction -- and who proves not nearly as interesting as either Theo or the filmmaker seems to think. (Though Subgirl speaks not a word, she is given almost as much screen time as Ms Jones.)

Finally, the film succeeds neither as mystery (Blow-Up, Rear Window and a number of others got there first), love story, nor even a very good "relationship" movie. As fine as are the performances, the characters on view are simply not deep nor interesting enough to be worth our time.

From Oscilloscope Laboratories, the movie opens this Friday, March 11, in New York City at the Village East Cinemas, and will expand to several cities next week, and even further in the weeks to come.  Click here for all upcoming dates, cities and theaters.

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