31 August 2003 | FilmFlaneur
Writer/Director Russell DeGrazier's film is a chamber piece built around four main characters: two obsessive men and their women. Lead Matthew Settle plays a magazine columnist and radio phone-in show host who, Frasier-like, offers advice to the troubled and lovelorn, all the while his own private life is a mess. His relationship with Liz (Gretchen Mol) has finished sometime back and yet he can't forget her. So much so in fact that he begins to stalk her, eventually driving her further into the arms of editor and friend Garrett (Tom Everett Scott). At the same time, at first in rebound, and then more and more seriously, Matthew dates Corey (Samantha Mathis) a vulnerable actress precariously low in self-esteem. (`I never seem to make an impression so don't feel bad'). It's an emotional pressure-cooker, and when the violent release occurs, Matthew finds himself the victim of his own reputation.
Criticisms of 'Attraction' have stemmed from the threatening nature of these relationships as well as the obscure motivation of the main characters. There's no denying that the element of sexual stalking, of seeing women as prey or prizes, is an aspect of the drama to which in these PC-times one might take exception. The sleazy Matthew, aggressively self-centered and at times violent, is a hero to whom the audience's response is at best ambivalent, at worst outright condemnatory. Only at the end of the film does he elicit any real sympathy. Other characters fare only slightly better. Liz, once Matthew's girl, may be the victim of his unwarranted attentions, but her allegiance in love is shallow and eventually revealed as transitory. She does not deserve the experiences she undergoes, but her sexual weakness for her former boyfriend is a contributory factor to her woes. Garrett, first seen as Liz's white knight, eventually proves more similar to Matthew than we think. This becomes apparent first as he stalks' him and his new girlfriend, sneering `How do you like being followed?'. The most upright of the four leads is Corey: her initial confusion and doubt as she shyly seeks Liz's permission to see Matthew is genuine, and provokes our most positive response. But as she in turn eventually stalks' Garrett, causing his accident, we too have doubts about the purity of her motives.
What drives all four characters, of course, is attraction'. The problem the film has is that this motivation is hardly ever put into words, let alone discussed. This absence of meaningful dialogue (as opposed to the angst ridden complaints of the stalked and lovesick) means that the audience is left to fill the blanks by itself. What exactly Matthew sees in Liz, or Liz in Garrett, Corey in Matthew, Matthew in Corey and so on, is left unexplained in detail. Rationale, where there is any, is given glibly: `It's like he's an alcoholic and you're a vodka martini' says Garrett of Liz's continuing attraction for her ex. Or, it is shown through mindless acts of sexual frustration, as when Matthew smashes the window outside Liz's door. This vacuum of the heart is most apparent in the key scene in the film, when Corey appears nude on stage, watched by all three of the principals. Corey's exposure to the world is physical, more than expressed in words. As she literally bares her all' she has nothing really interesting to say. Garrett is content to cough and laugh, Matthew gets violent and Liz sits in acute embarrassment. Even after the traumatic event Corey does not spend time in any self-examination, save to express brief dismay and shock. Aptly strobed like a projection through a slow shutter her previous nude performance, and its inadequate reception, can be seen as the essence of the film in microcosm.
If one can accept this limitation at the film's core, then it has much to offer. In some ways the lack of emotional communication may even be a strength. Matthew is a deliberately ambivalent character, played excellently by Settle. An indication of this is the interview between him and an unknown questioner, played out in extract as the film proceeds. How we view Matthew is reflected in how we take the immediate, dramatic, context of his talking. Is he being interrogated by police, after some terrible crime yet to be shown, or just explaining away obsessions to the curious? Or is he just taking part in some media event related to his job? The reappearance of the scene, as a smiling Matthew introduces and describes himself, forces us each time to reassess him in view of what we have just seen in the plot's real time'. In fact, much of the interest and tension in the film stems from Matthew and Garrett, whose motivations are unclear.
Attraction' is a film full of such ironies, whether it is Corey nude on stage revealing' nothing, the mirrored stalkings of Matthew, Garrett, and then Corey, or Matthew's final predicament. As a circular tale of obsessive behaviour it works neatly, helped along by DeGrazier's flashy direction, and is produced exactly to the right sort of scale such a taut story requires. Settle has a face which reminds one slightly of Tom Cruise while Mol tries a touch of Cameron Diaz. Had such high powered stars actually been available with a bigger budget, the whole thing would probably been less satisfactory. All in all, it's recommendable, and there's much worse things sitting on the video shelf.