© 2004 Ray Wong
It is difficult to label WICKER PARK with a broad stroke as a bad movie. There are things that I really like, and it is unfortunate that the filmmakers have missed the mark with what could have been a potentially smart, affecting film that rivals some of the best foreign films on the planet.
Matt is an investment banker who returns to Chicago after spending two years in New York. He’s on the brink of proposing to his girlfriend/business partner Rebecca but there is something holding him back. When he catches a glimpse of his old girlfriend, Lisa, he finds himself falling into an obsession of finding her.
He skips his business trip to Shanghai; instead, he goes on a wild goose chase around town looking for Lisa. When he does, he discovers that she is, literally, a stranger who has the same name and wears the same shoes and perfume. The truth unfolds as our hero and heroines get caught in a web of lies.
The distributor made a fatal mistake by marketing this film as a psychological thriller and hinting at, perhaps, a murder mystery or violence at the core, ala FATAL ATTRACTION. True, psychology is a big part of it -- as one character says to Matt, “Love makes you do strange, unthinkable things.” The film is about obsession, deception, fate and manipulation. Strong and complex themes that would have made a compelling film in more capable hands.
The script by Boyce (APT PUPIL) is uneven in places and manipulative over all. It’s not to say I absolutely hate it. I think the dialogue is, in general, natural and real and full of subtexts. I think some of the events and actions by the characters are thought provoking. However, Boyce litters the story with so much contrived coincidence and missed encounters -- trying too hard to pull on our heartstrings with that “AWW! They missed each other again” sentiment -- it makes one resentful. There is a more fundamental problem: if Matt is so obsessed with Lisa, why didn’t he look for her in the past two years? By the end of the film, there are enough plot holes to fill the streets of Chicago.
Another major flaw the film is the lack of any compelling, sympathetic characters. Almost every character is self-absorbed, manipulative and plagued by some level of obsessive, deceptive dysfunction. Sure, that can work with stronger material (think FATAL ATTRACTION again) but it is not the case here.
Director McGuigan (THE RECKONING) does attempt a refreshing approach in storytelling. Much of the story and suspense is revealed through a series of flashbacks. At times, he lingers too long to create that sense of longing and mystery. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The problem is that without the flashbacks, the story would have been very straightforward, probably over in under an hour. They try to create suspense and mystery through the editing and structure. It is an interesting approach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. It’s a false sense of suspense, done in a very manipulative way, then ten miles before we reach Oz, we already know who the wizard is. We feel cheated.
Hartnett (HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE) is in dire need of a good film to reestablish him as a bona fide actor/star. Unfortunately he won’t find it here. His “hero” turns out very unlikable (cheating, lying, deceiving, breaking into someone’s apartment, etc.) all in the name of love. This guy doesn’t seem to have any ethics, does he? Hartnett’s characterization is lackluster as well -- we fall asleep just by staring into his puppy eyes. Lillard (WITHOUT A PADDLE) plays his normal doofus/best-friend role with good intention, but his role is merely a plot point, and you really can’t take his performance seriously. Kruger (TROY) is beautiful and engaging. However, she really doesn’t have much to do. The film belongs to Bryne (TROY). Sure, her character is despicable and ultimately a wicked witch, but you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Bryne is successful in showing her vulnerability, pain and internal conflicts -- it still doesn’t excuse her character from all the horrible things she does, but at least we get a glimpse of what makes her do them. Too bad her good performance still can’t lift the film out of its own misery.
Stars: Josh Hartnett, Rose Bryne, Matthew Lillard, Diane Kruger, Jessica Paré, Christopher Cousins
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: Brandon Boyce (based on L’APPARTEMENT by Gilles Minouni)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality and language
Script – 3
Performance – 6
Direction – 4
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 4
Production – 7
Total – 5.2 out of 10