review by Cynthia Fuchs, 10 May 2002
It's a very windy day. A very
windy day. Still, Connie Sumner (Diane Lane), a happy-enough
Westchester County housewife is determined to go into the city in
order to do her errands. Teetering on her high heels, loaded with
packages, she's struggling to get a cab when boom, she runs smack
into a young man, Paul (Olivier Martinez), who is carrying a stack
of old books. Both go down. They exchange looks. His hair blows
across his face. Her smile flutters. And you have once again entered
the bizarre realm where director Adrian Lyne holds sway, where all
relationships are simultaneously broadly metaphorical, oddly
abstract, and excruciatingly literal.
Connie takes respite from the wind
inside Paul's huge Soho apartment, where she introduces herself to
the beautiful, 28-year-old French bookseller as "Constance,"
because, you know, the film is called Unfaithful and she will
not be constant at all. Paul is apparently irresistible, casting his
sleepy eyes in her direction and offering her a book off the many in
his collection. In fact, he directs her to the precise tome of poems
that will win her heart, or at least get her attention, telling her
which row, which shelf, which number of books from the left, and
which page she needs to be reading. Oh my, he seems to know her so
well, after only a minute of dialogue. She blushes and scurries from
the apartment. Smitten.
She doesn't mean to be. Connie
would really rather head home to the suburbs, kiss her little kid,
and find another, less self-destructive way to distract herself from
her sense that husband Edward (Richard Gere) is
vaguely-but-not-horribly obsessed with his work and less focused on
her than he may once have been. But no, poor Connie is the female
protagonist in an Adrian Lyne movie, and so, she must suffer.
Though Connie loves Edward and son
Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan, Malcolm in the Middle's Dewey),
she can't stop thinking about Paul. As soon as she walks in the door
at home, her knees become a prominent emblem of her infidelity to
come. First, the maid takes note, proffering a bag of frozen peas.
Then Charlie espies them, celebrating their bloodiness and snapping
photos to show off in class. Even workaholic Edward pays attention,
nodding at her story of how they came about, asking innocently if
the young man who helped her was "good looking." Most insistently,
the camera offers repeated close-ups of Connie's knees, band-aided
or raw, so as to let you know what's on her mind.
Loosely adapted by Alvin Sargent
and William Broyles, Jr. from Claude Chabrol's La Femme Infidèle,
Unfaithful revisits familiar Lynian themes: much like 9
1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal,
and Lolita, the new film examines the trouble men get into
when women behave too passionately. Lyne also brings to bear his
trademark symbolism (pots boiling, rain pelting windshields, dogs
placidly observing human foibles) and filtered light (and, as the
New York Times reported on 7 May 2002, he can't just use
filtered lenses like everyone else; he has to pump smoke onto the
set, to the point that Diane Lane had to have oxygen between takes).
This isn't to say that perfectionism is a bad thing. It is to say
that Lyne has one trick he likes and for which he has been rewarded.
And he does it again and again.
That trick here is by turns
intriguingly complex and irritatingly reductive. Against her better
judgment, Connie (or Con, as Edward so ominously calls her) lurches
into an affair with Paul. Her first gesture is tentative, her
nervousness palpable -- she takes the train into town, then calls
Paul from a Grand Central payphone, agreeing to come over "for
coffee." He doesn't press her, letting her scurry off a couple of
more times before they actually do the deed, as he sweeps her off
her feet and carries her into the bedroom. (In one seeming twist,
the elevator in Paul's building doesn't work, so you're not
subjected to another of those slam-around-in-the-elevator scenes for
which Lyne is famous.)
Their first tryst appears on screen
in fragments, as Connie recalls it during her train ride back home.
She's thrilled, afraid, and angry, remembering that, when Paul
instructed her to hit him, she did, leading directly to orgasmic
frenzy. Back on the train, she's simultaneously weepy and elated,
her hands fluttering to her flushed face, wiping away tears, as bits
of the afternoon flash for you. The scene is moving, not only
because Connie is so manifestly undone by the experience, so
suddenly aware of her own hunger and desire, but also because she is
so manifestly alone in this awareness. Boy-toy will never match her
excitement or ingenuity. That is, you get the feeling here that this
is not the beginning of a relationship, but the first step in a
building catastrophe, for which Connie will feel wholly responsible.
But of course, she doesn't know
this yet. And the first part of the film carefully traces Connie's
roller-coaster emotions, punctuated by reckless decisions to go to
restaurants where she might be spotted (most devastatingly, by one
of Paul's rancorous employees, installed just for this plot-devicey
function). Her lack of vision exacerbates your anxiety, because you
know where this is headed, but it makes her sympathetic in a way
that most girls in Lyne's movies are not.
Moreover, he plays games: when she
calls him one afternoon after being waylaid outside his apartment by
a couple of acquaintances (Kate Burton and Margaret Colin), he comes
to the café where they're having coffee. Paul tousles his hair,
absorbs the ladies' admiring looks, then saunters past their table
into the bathroom, where Connie meets him and they share a fast,
ardent stall-encounter. She returns to the table with one button
undone. Oblivious of her breathlessness, the women proceed to
discuss the possibilities of "affairs." One warns that they always
end disastrously, and Connie bites her lip.
Soon she's confessing to Paul that
he's the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up each morning.
Well, uh, he likes her too, though maybe not so much; you won't be
surprised (like she is) that he has other girlfriends. Still, your
sympathy gets stretched when Connie starts behaving like a crazy
person, or more accurately, a character in an Adrian Lyne movie. She
almost crashes her SUV in the rain while zooming to NYC (bad
driver!), forgets to pick up little Charlie at school (bad mom!),
and then gives Paul a gift that Edward once gave her (bad wife, and
not so bright, either!).
It could be that these ill-advised
moves indicate Connie's general conflict over the affair. The film
thickly underlines her capacity for duplicity and also compassion in
a montage that intercuts happy-Connie at Charlie's sunny outdoor
birthday party, and happy-Connie in Paul's dark and sultry bedroom,
arranged in stylish sexual tableaux, sumptuously filmed by Peter
All good things must end. As
Connie's actions become increasingly inexplicable and Edward catches
a clue, Unfaithful abandons her point of view for his. This
is very too bad, because his point of view is odd, to say the least,
and in making this shift, the film appears to equate two very
unequal acts (adultery, and what Edward does). He hires a detective,
a decision that, as Gere pointed out on the Today show,
indicates serious, pre-Paul problems in the marriage: Edward would
rather go to this extreme than have a conversation with his wife.
On learning the "truth," Edward
decides to confront Paul (who sort of resembles Gere in his more
insolent American Gigolo days), whereupon his jealousy
literally makes him ill, at which point, the film resorts to a very
cheap trick (and it's not even Lyne's usual), taking Edward's
unfocused, flailing perspective ("I. Feel. Ill."). Such visual
gimmickry doesn't really make up for what follows, doesn't make what
Edward does next look plausible, and doesn't excuse sending Connie
off to the edges of the film. Unfaithful quickly descends
into a murky moral relativity, where obsession substitutes for love
and women forgive all.
Unfaithful - Paul Nechak
- Unfaithful - Cynthia Fuchs
Erik Per Sullivan
William Broyles Jr.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
or adult guardian.