Laws of Attraction
Director : Peter Howitt
Screenplay : Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling (story by Aline Brosh McKenna)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Pierce Brosnan (Daniel Rafferty), Julianne Moore (Audrey Woods), Michael Sheen (Thorne Jamison), Parker Posey (Serena), Frances Fisher (Sara Miller), Nora Dunn (Judge Abramovitz), Johnny Myers (Ashton Phelps), Mike Doyle (Michael Rawson), Allan Houston (Adamo Shandela)
Although it probably looked on paper like the wheezy misfire that it is, it's completely understandable why Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore would want to star in Laws of Attraction. After all, these are two gifted actors who have been playing the same type of role for many, many years, Brosnan's being secret agent James Bond and Julianne Moore's being any heavy, melodramatic role (see, for example, 2002's Far From Heaven or The Hours). Thus, a chance to star in a sassy romantic comedy probably seemed like a gift from above.
Unfortunately, their vehicle of choice was a poor one, as Laws of Attraction tries desperately, but unsuccessfully, to ape the refined battle-of-the-sexes hilarity of such films as the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn masterpiece Adam's Rib (1949). Brosnan stars as Daniel Rafferty, a divorce lawyer whose last name suggests his raffish outward demeanor; he's a handsome mess of rumbled linen suits and slightly too-long hair who maintains a small office in Chinatown for no apparent reason. Moore is Audrey Woods (is her name meant to invoke the great Audrey Hepburn?), Rafferty's polar opposite. She's also a divorce lawyer, but she's all neatly ironed, button-down perfectionism who always has to arrange her multicolored pens in just the right order.
As we all well know, opposites attract, especially when booze is involved, and Laws of Attraction quite successfully makes the case that mass alcohol consumption is the key to romantic comedy, particularly when one of the drinks being consumed is translated as "Goat's Nut." The first time Daniel and Audrey get drunk, they just end up sleeping together. Whew! They're not so lucky the second time, when they're both in Ireland to research a castle that's disputed in the ugly divorce case between a Sid Vicious clone of a punk rock star (Michael Sheen) and his fashion designer wife (Parkey Posey). This time, they attend a festival in a small Irish town and get so drunk that they wake up the next morning married.
The twist screenwriters Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling use to try to give the story some meaning and depth is the conflict between how Daniel and Audrey feel about their unexpected union. Surprisingly enough, Daniel is quite serious about it, while Audrey sees it as a booze-influenced mistake that needs to be fixed. Throughout the movie, we catch glimpses of their views of marriage, and it turns out that Daniel is an old-fashioned romantic who still believes in the power of monogamous union for life and the need for couples to work out their inevitable problems, rather than running to the first lawyer (how ironic for a divorce lawyer!). Audrey, on the other hand, is much more modern about such things, dismissing marriage as an outdated concept. Thus, as all romantic comedies must do with such women, Audrey must be shown the error of her ways and learn that romance is still well and alive and that the idea of living happily ever after, even with someone as rakishly handsome as Pierce Brosnan, is really possible.
All "meaningful" content aside, the comedy in Laws of Attraction falls consistently flat, despite the best efforts by all involved, including Nora Dunn as a tough-but-sweet judge. Michael Sheen and Parkey Posey turn their feuding rock star couple into such obnoxious jerks that they steal every scene they're in, but not for good reasons. Frances Fisher, on the other hand, does an outstanding job of scene stealing as Sarah Miller, Audrey's Botoxed socialite mother who refuses to be referred to as such in public. (In real life, Fisher is only eight years older than Moore, but that's central to the joke of the mother being more youthful in both appearance and demeanor than the daughter.) Fisher's performance is the best thing in the movie, but it ends up working to the story's detriment. After all, she plays Sarah as such an intriguingly upfront, no-nonsense modern woman that Audrey and all her fussbudget practicalities look that much worse, making you wonder yet again what Daniel sees in her.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 New Line Cinema