Film/TV » Film Features

Wedded Hiss

Marriages in trouble in Unfaithful and Enough.



Unfaithful starts out making all the right decisions. It avoids the clichés of typical sexy thrillers by emphasizing character over moralizing (or demoralizing) and the psychological over the psychopathic.
Richard Gere and Diane Lane are Edward and Connie Sumner — the portrait of blissful American success, with lots of money, a gorgeous New York suburban home, a cute young son, Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan — Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle), and a good marriage. Edward runs a security company, and Connie takes care of Charlie and the house and shops a lot. On a particularly windy shopping day, Connie is literally blown on top of Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), a younger, sexy French fellow. Connie skins her knee on Paul’s Soho stoop and Paul … well, Paul has Band-Aids in his apartment. Does Connie, bleeding, take a cab home or does she accept Paul’s invitation to his recklessly arty loft apartment for … medicine?
A lesser film would have the affair begin immediately. Paul makes all the right moves and says all the right sexy French things. So the seduction is all the more dangerous as she is lured gradually into adultery. She is married to Richard Gere, after all. Why would she stray? Some men in the audience may be perplexed by the idea of a woman who has everything but still wants more, but, hey, believe it or not, it happens. And for Connie, fantasizing leads to a phone call, which leads to another meeting, which leads to another, which leads to … well, you know.
Edward becomes suspicious, has Connie followed, and, unbeknownst to her, discovers the affair. Gere’s best moment is his visit to Paul’s apartment, where Edward meets the Other Man and tries desperately to understand how Connie could do this to him and her family. There is an uncomfortable familiarity between these two men who share the same woman. As Edward looks around at all the places in the dingy apartment he knows Connie has rolled around in, and all Paul knows to do is offer him a drink. Least he can do, right? This scene sensitively maps out the layers of Edward’s hurt and appalled surprise, and only thereafter do the true, menacing consequences of Connie’s betrayal come to fruition.
What follows is a mostly honest and patient cat-and-mouse game that has Connie slowly figuring out what Edward knows and to what extent he is willing to keep and protect her. Director Adrian Lyne is no stranger to compromised sexual morality and obsession, having helmed 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and Indecent Proposal, giving credibility and style to what could have been, in the hands of a lesser director, soft-core trash. He shows us almost all of the right stuff here in lots of slow, deliberate shots of both spouses searching each other’s faces for answers, assurance, and safety.
Lane is terrific. Neither her abandon nor her disgrace is entire. While adultery never looked as good as it does with her and the exciting Martinez (in his American debut), we always see that she knows there is a family missing her. There is a fascinating scene on a subway when Connie, on her way home after the first indiscretion, stares pensively ahead, alternately laughing and crying as the delights of the encounter are mixed (in stylish flashback) with the pained gravity of her poor judgment. Lane shows us all we need to see — and holds back all that we don’t need to see — without a single word.
Gere is surprisingly effective if somewhat cornered into the thankless role of the scorned Edward. The first half of the film belongs to Connie, the second to Edward, and Gere is quite good at playing normal and wounded. But the script lets him down in a key confrontation with Connie that, by giving Edward too little to say, steals the gathering momentum we’ve had to that point. Gere, a minimalist emotional performer, does best when he has time to work himself up, and he doesn’t get it here. That’s a shame, because it might have helped the audience buy into the film’s inevitable but ambiguous ending.

If Enough had premiered on the Lifetime channel, it would have starred Nancy McKeon or Melissa Gilbert or, I dunno, Annie Potts. The female protagonist would have squared off against an abusive Bruce Boxleitner or Ken Olin (or, conceivably, Billy Campbell, of the late TV series Once and Again, who does actually apear in Enough — good for you, Billy!), and the script would have probably been smarter and tighter than this tepid Hollywood release.
The story is straight out of a troubled-woman made-for-TV movie of the month, and the dialogue is so clichéd and the characters so two-dimensional that all the audience can do is turn off their brains and await (as promised in the movie trailer, so I am spoiling nothing) the inevitable confrontation and its jaw-crunching, ass-whupping rewards.
Jennifer Lopez plays Slim, an attractive blue-collar waitress. Her life changes when a handsome stranger, Mitch (Campbell), appears to protect her honor against a dubious suitor. Before you know it, we’re all seven years older and they are married with a daughter. Things seem perfect for Mitch and Slim until she discovers that Mitch has a mistress and a double life. When she confronts him, he punches her and transforms rather instantly into a hateful lout who says things (more or less) like “I’m a man and you’re a woman and I have all the power. That’s the way it will always be. What I say goes.” Mitch says this kind of stuff a lot in the movie, and it is disappointing that the audience is expected to believe his 180-degree personality change from Prince Charming into abusive monster.
Anyway, Slim’s friends conspire quickly to rescue her from her situation, but Mitch is rich and well-connected. He manages to have her credit cards canceled, her accounts frozen, and thugs with knives appear at her every new doorstep. Nobody can seem to help, and an out-of-character visit to a wizened attorney leads her to the following conclusion: She’s screwed. She didn’t go to the police when she had the chance and now nothing will stop Mitch from finding her and killing her. However, after weeks and months of running and hiding, Slim has had … ENOUGH!
I had never seen a Jennifer Lopez movie before Enough. She’s okay. The script allows her enough concern, protectiveness, and moxie for us to care about her, but there isn’t much character to get to know. Billy Campbell does a commendable job keeping Mitch interesting, but screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (Bicentennial Man) doesn’t allow him to have any dimension. He’s all leering, selfish animal here. Other good actors — Juliette Lewis, Noah Wyle, and Fred Ward — are pretty much wasted in thankless, dead-end roles and deserve to be in better movies. The real gem here is Tessa Allen as the daugher, Gracie. Allen is pleasantly unpolished but genuine and believable, and she’s spared the fate of most child characters — providing agonizing, cutesy-poo comic relief. There is some of that here, but it is kept to an endearing minimum.
Enough is basically a movie about a fight. If you have seen the trailer, you know that all scenes are designed to elicit cheers when that fight finally happens. And for this I will give the film credit: The fight looks terrific. But there is a very cheesy training montage (complete with 1970s Rocky-esque, swanky contender music underscoring — listen for it), and Slim really probably wouldn’t have time to go from frightened housewife/waitress to expert cat burglar/ninja in the few weeks we see her train. But at this point, we don’t care so much about reality as much as we just want to see Mitch get his.
Real abusers apologize, don’t they? They promise never to do it again. They are desperate in seeking forgiveness. That’s what makes it difficult to leave an abusing spouse. That’s what makes it heartbreaking. Enough is more of a thriller or action movie than a drama. A drama might have explored how difficult it is to leave someone you love but can’t be with anymore. Enough has no interest in the complexities of marriage, survival, or the law. My advice? Stay at home and watch Lifetime or Oxygen for the same quality material. Or, if you find your way to the theater, catch the infinitely more rewarding Unfaithful instead, which actually has something interesting to say about infidelity, relationships, and violence.

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