Not having seen the 1996 French film L’Appartement, the picture this film is a remake of, I can’t tell you if the original cast was allowed to smoke those big, fat cigarettes one comes to expect from this distinctive brand of ménage-a-whatever flick that has been spilling onto our shores for a very long time. The pale faces surrounded by the swirling white lines of those ubiquitous props were the perfect symbol for the foggy chaos that consumed the Frenchies in whatever serious or not-so-serious love games they may have been playing with one another. The cigarettes were supporting players, hanging from a seducer’s lip, or puffed on slowly in cafés while plotting delicious comeuppances and revenge. Wicker Park, although awash in all the same mystery, angst and gamesmanship as its French cousins, eschews the cancer sticks for a much more American and shinier melodrama. No one smokes in Wicker Park. No one is awash in those dangerous clouds. The most sinister crimes-of-the-heart are committed by squeaky-clean Hollywood actors; portraying characters so wildly successful and cute that it’s almost impossible to believe any kind of terrible desperation would befall any of them. Mere aesthetics, perhaps … but what could have been a truly meaty psychodrama is hampered by the gee-whiz, healthy glow of this crop of up-and-comers. If just one of them had a harelip or drank absinthe or even suffered a strand of roast beef between their teeth (or picked their nose or farted or threw puppies against a wall), perhaps we’d see them as having at least a modicum of the fiery passion that supposedly fuels their actions. Even though they don’t seem dirty or confused enough, the core plot of Wicker Park is compelling and inventive enough to warrant a recommendation — although anyone who is really paying attention will “get” what is going on about halfway through the picture.
And what is going on? Well, we have one ridiculously successful ad executive living in Chicago, Matthew (the ridiculously handsome Josh Hartnett), who, it seems, sacrificed a career in photography and the charms of a budding Czech dancer (the even more ridiculously beautiful Diane Kruger) for a less-soulful existence as a corporate tool and soon-to-be-husband of Rebecca (Jessica Pare). On the eve of an important business trip to China, Mr. Eyebrows seems to spot his old love while attempting to make a phone call at a shi-shi Italian restaurant. After apparently browbeating a stalker over the phone, the woman leaves behind a hotel key in the phone booth. Matthew retrieves it, and then blows off the trip to China and spends the rest of the movie hunting down his true mate, while languishing within the multiple flashbacks that reveal the past, along with clues as to what really tore them apart two years ago. Matthew’s buddy and shoe-store owner, Luke (Matthew Lillard), is an integral part of the increasingly complex machinations and mystery that begin to unravel. Luke’s girlfriend, Alex (Rose Byrne), a Shakespearean actress and first-class flake, adds another layer of doubt and suspicion to the mix.
These four characters bounce off each other, slowly revealing motivations and desires and deceptions, providing a mildly entertaining, but ultimately shallow, experience. Although the film’s cinematography employs a rich palette of color, the sound track is appropriately modern and “moody,” and the players do nothing intentional to detract from the clever and articulate script … it still arrives with a thud. But it is an earnest — and non-smoking — attempt nonetheless.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].