24 August 2007 | Buddy-51
well-intentioned but implausible romantic comedy
While watching "Gray Matters" - which marks the film-making debut of writer/director Sue Kramer - I kept wondering if maybe I hadn't somehow stumbled back into "Puccini for Beginners," a movie I'd seen a few weeks earlier, since both are oddly similar, equally implausible tales of Manhattan yuppies involved in romantic triangles of the bisexual kind.
Gray and Sam are siblings who not only live in the same apartment and spend most of their free time together but are so emotionally attached to one another that people often mistake them for a romantic couple. As if that weren't queasy enough, the screenplay ups the ante by having the hitherto heterosexual Gray suddenly "discover" she's a lesbian when she falls for Sam's gorgeous new wife, Charlie (yes, I know all this can be a bit confusing, but Charlie is a woman).
As with "Puccini," most of what happens in "Gray Matters" feels contrived and artificial. We don't believe for a second that two seemingly rational people like Sam and Charlie would become engaged after only a single date, or that even an indecisive ditz like Gray would be this in-the-dark about her own sexuality.
Thus, with so little of the storyline grounded in anything even closely resembling reality, we find ourselves detached from the characters and indifferent to their fates. That's no denigration of the lead players - Heather Graham, Thomas Cavanaugh and Bridget Monahan - all of whom are appealing and likable in their various roles. And there are some sharp supporting performances by Molly Shannon, Alan Cumming, and Sissy Spacek as Gray's loopy therapist (though there is a brief cameo appearance by singer Gloria Gaynor that is pure unadulterated pandering). Moreover, New York City looks all sparkly and shiny as seen through the lens of cinematographer John S. Bartley's camera.
With its countless references to 40's musicals and romantic comedies, "Gray Matters" clearly sees itself as both an homage and a throwback to the metier and style of those earlier films. But we are obviously living in different times, and the labored setups and screwball comedy devices that worked so well in the past feel pretty darned anachronistic and forced when employed today. My feeling is that if you're going to make a modern romantic comedy, one that deals with such "contemporary" issues as coming out and sexual identity, then make a movie that actually feels modern. Don't try to tuck it safely away in the past, then expect us to take any of it seriously. Despite it's taking on those relatively gutsy issues, "Gray Matters" really doesn't exist in anyone's world, and certainly not in the racially and economically diverse world of 21st Century Manhattan.
"Gray Matters" presents us with life as only those in the movies ever really live it.