Meg Ryan sheds more than her clothes in this would-be steamy thriller. She sheds her twinkle. We don’t get the nose-wrinkling smile. No adorable befuddlement. No irresistible misting of the eyes. Unfortunately, that leaves her — and us — with not much of a performance. And unfortunately the script leaves us with not much of a movie.
Ryan plays Franny, an English professor who is deeply moved by words. She drinks in the scraps of poetry on the subway placards. She writes down the latest slang terms she hears from her students. And when a police detective (always-watchable Mark Ruffalo) comes to ask whether she saw anything on the night of a murder, she writes down a word he used to describe the body: “disarticulated.” But she holds her own words in, communicating very little to anyone except for her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Franny and the detective begin an intensely charged affair, but they know very little about each other and the very intensity in the midst of the investigation of a series of brutal makes them pull away from each other. Franny even begins to wonder whether the detective may be the killer. Threats loom all around her, including a needy ex-boyfriend (a stringy-looking Kevin Bacon) and a student (the charismatic Sharrieff Pugh) who seems interested in a much closer relationship.
Director Jane Campion uses arty tricks like a hand-held camera and a rust-colored cast to the settings to try to make the movie about something deeper. She may want it to seem dreamlike, even nightmarish. But it just feels incoherent. The verbal and physical encounters that are supposed to be dark and edgy and sexy are just flat. Ryan can handle dramatic roles, as she showed in When a Man Loves a Woman and Flesh and Bone. But she does not have enough to work with in the affectless Franny. The story itself is just weak, with an especially dopey ending that seems grafted on from another movie. If this were a smarter or more linear or more focused movie, I might think that Franny’s reaction to the detective — first impulsively getting too close and then impulsively pushing him away — was a reflection of the character’s conflicts about herself or perhaps symbolic of the human ambivalence about intimacy, physical and emotional. But I think it was just over-heated and muddled.
Parents should know that this movie is very close to an NC-17. It has exceptionally explicit sexual references and situations and extremely strong language, including racist and homophobic comments. There is nudity, including scenes in a strip bar. The movie also has very grisly images including bloody body parts and blood-drenched rooms. Characters are killed. The movie includes a lot of smoking and drinking, including drunkenness.
Families who see this movie should talk about the importance of Franny’s story about how her parents got engaged. How did the director use the way the camera moved and the color schemes of the settings to help tell the story?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the better Sea of Love and Final Analysis.