Joline (Heather Graham) is a woman of her word. Her parents “had a way of moving on from things, including each other.” But Joline believes in commitment. When she gets married, she has the ring tattooed on her finger. Less than two years later, when her husband Carl (Luke Wilson) leaves her without telling her where he is going or why he is going, she goes after him.
Joline narrates the story, and she often prefaces her statements with “I read somewhere,” as in “I read somewhere that the reason most relationships break down is that both parties are waiting for the other to fix it.” She also read somewhere that people can find each other just by following their instincts, and sure enough, she somehow tracks down Carl in El Paso, Texas. But she does not let him know she is there. She just parks near his new home and watches him, taking time out to inadvertently disrupt his relationships with Carmen, his new girlfriend (Patricia Velasquez) and his boss (Dylan Baker). Joline and Carmen become friends, and when Joline’s brother, Jay (Casey Affleck) comes after her, he and Carmen become romantically involved. Joline also gets advice from Carmen’s grandfather (Alfonso Arau), who has mystical powers.
Things do not go well, and Joline says, “I had no choice but to get more extreme with my rituals.” She camps out opposite Carl’s apartment, conducting a “spiritual vigil.” Finally, she is “committed” in both senses of the word, and ends up in a mental hospital.
Joline is less committed to Carl than she is to the idea of commitment. Her sense of herself is so deeply tied up in the idea of permanence that she does not stop to think about whether Carl is the one she should be committed to. Carmen’s grandfather explains that she needs to do what he did in exposing himself to a little of the rattlesnake’s poison in order to become immune. She learns that the distinctions between stupid and brave, crazy and lucky, sick and well, committed and uncommitted, are not as clear as she thought. She says, “For a long time I was telling a joke that nobody got.” Finally, she tells Carl that “I’m still committed, but not to you.”
Families should know that the movie is rated R for language and sexual references. Carl’s artist neighbor makes sexual overtures to Joline that include suggestive caressing of a life-size doll he made of Joline. Carmen’s former boyfriend is abusive and threatening. Jay lives with a lesbian couple and occasionally has sex with one of them, which makes the other one jealous and possessive. There is also a brief but weird brother-sister kiss.
Families who see the movie should discuss the challenge of maintaining a balance between supporting the person you love and enabling destructive or self-destructive behavior. They may also want to talk about Joline’s terms, “spiritual wheelchair” and “spiritual coma,” and the metaphor of the rattlesnake poison.