Chaos Theory (2007) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, sexual content and language
Running time: 88 min.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend, Matreya Fedor, Sarah Clarke, Mike Erwin, Elisabeth Harnois
Director: Marcos Siega
Screenplay: Daniel Taplitz
Review published June 7, 2008
It's two soul-searching comedy-dramas in a row, after Definitely Maybe, whereby Ryan Reynolds plays a father who tells spins a yarn in flashback mode of the story of his first love and answering the question of just who is his daughter's legitimate parent. Though they are similar enough to confuse, they are still distinct enough on their own to avoid comparisons, and despite their adherence to formula rom-com filmmaking styles, both prove to deliver worthwhile entertainment for the thoughtful comedy crowd.
Related in flashback mode to his son-in-law-to-be (Erwin, "Everwood"), Reynolds (Smokin' Aces, Just Friends) stars as Frank Allen, an author and self-help motivational speaker who lives by the principle that planning and time management is the road to leading happy, productive lives -- never do anything on a whim, he says. His whole idea of the worth of planning changes through the course of one day, as his wife Susan's (Mortimer, Paris I Love You) tampering with the clock leads him to be late to a speech, setting off a chain of reactions that ultimately ends up with Frank being accused by Susan of infidelity and fathering another woman's child. With the marriage on the rocks, Frank sets about trying to prove himself unworthy of her scorn, and in the process, he finds out that his happy marriage has a bombshell secret that makes him question the very nature of everything he's come to believe as far as maintaining a constant sense of order in his life. Distraught and borderline-suicidal, Frank begins a new path of reckless, random behavior, where chaos is the only constant to follow.
The idea for the story is gimmicky, and the screenplay, if put into lesser hands, probably would have resulted in an unpalatable film. Chaos Theory might have a leaden aspect in its script, but it is clear that those involved with the making of the film actually like and respect the characters they've created. Much of the credit should go to Reynolds and Mortimer, who both breathe a sympathetic depth to what might have been one-note characters. Although we aren't given much time relating why they love one another prior to things falling apart, the way they handle the situations always appears believable, even when the situations themselves are not.
I'm not entirely sure what the purpose of bookending the film with the conversations between the father and the young man about to marry his daughter is. Perhaps it's to leave open the possibility that some of the less believable events within the construct of the story are the embellishments of a writer, though I may be giving the screenwriter (Taplitz, Breakin' All the Rules) too much credit. It's particularly annoying when a supposed flashback includes scenes the character relating the story hadn't been privy to, or tidbits in the conversations one wouldn't necessarily relate when telling it to a stranger. Nevertheless, the ending is rather touching in and of itself to see what happens to the characters in the story, so it's hard to be too critical when it works as well.
Although billed as a comedy, it actually isn't much of one. Certainly, some scenes, such as the introduction to Frank and Susan at a party where she gets to choose her mate by what they call their members isn't one to take seriously. There is a streaking scene later in the film across an ice rink at a hockey game that merits a chuckle. Much of the rest resides in the whimsical drama category, where amusement happens if we buy into the characters and the folly of their attempts to save themselves from certain calamity at every turn.
Chaos Theory falls under the category of a weak script imbued with enough good moments by the director and performers to make it worthwhile on the whole. Scenes of anguish on the part of Reynolds regarding the realization that the family and friends he's known for so long have a history he's never been aware of are effective, and director Siega allows his players much room to breathe to give them a nuance they'd otherwise not have. Particularly good is the aspect of the young daughter and what she means to both father and mother, including a very strong scene where the Frank and Susan must try to find a way they can be the family they always were despite knowing key facts that make it nearly impossible to do just that. Scenes involving father and daughter have a level of poignancy that pays off, especially in the end. Reynolds gives what might be his best performance, never dipping in to his usual deadpan comedy shtick for easy laughs.
Siega definitely shows promise here that he didn't have in previous films like Underclassmen and Pretty Persuasion, but after spending the last few years as a journeyman television director for provocative adult fare, he appears to have learned a thing or two. Once he gets rid of formulaic tendencies, such as the crutch of using mood songs repeatedly to give the feel of a typical modern anguished comedy, he will really hit his mark.
©2008 Vince Leo