Wicker Park (2004) / Romance-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality and language
Running Time: 116 min.

Cast: Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lillard, Diane Kruger, Christopher Cousins, Jessica Pare
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenplay: Brandon Boyce
Review published September 23, 2004

If I had to sum up Wicker Park in a one-word review, I’d put it simply: Frustrating.  Based on the French film, L’Appartment, Scottish director Paul McGuigan’s version meanders in its twisty narrative until we not only aren't able to swallow the motivations of the characters, but we also aren't able to follow them, mostly because we genuinely don’t care.  If slick direction were all it took to make a sexy thriller, Wicker Park would be a great film, with its split screen action, fluid moving camera, and sleek cinematography.  Alas, this is a romance, and to be successful, we need characters we can relate to, and unfortunately the characters as written have far too little depth or appeal, and all we’re left with is to watch the mechanical plot shift gears and hope something good comes of it.  It doesn’t.

Josh Hartnett (Hollywood Homicide, 40 Days and 40 Nights) stars as Matthew, a Chicago hotshot advertising exec who sneaks around on his would-be fiancé  (Jessica Pare, Stardom) when he suspects that the woman he loved and lost two years ago, Lisa (Diane Kruger, Troy), is around somewhere in the area.  Through a set of unlikely occurrences, Matthew finds Lisa’s apartment, and while all of the personal effects in it point to the right woman, the one inhabiting the apartment calling herself Lisa (Rose Byrne, I Capture the Castle) is not the same person.  However, things aren’t adding up here, as Matthew continues to look for that elusive woman he is still in love with.

Happenstance, circumstance and contrivance are the three primary forces at play in Wicker Park, and suspension of disbelief comes at far too heavy a price as events unfold.  One unlikely occurrence after another get piled on, and you’ll have to have a heavy tolerance for inanity to stick with this story to the bitter end. 

Wicker Park’s main problem is this:  Matthew is a selfish asshole who is unworthy of any woman’s love, much less three women.  This is a character that has an obsessive relationship with a woman and then loses her through an extremely unlikely set of events, only to enter into another relationship that approaches the point of marriage -- and then on a whim he dumps girlfriend #2.  Meanwhile, on the way to get girlfriend #1 back, he meets and is easily seduced by girlfriend #3 -- cheating on two women at once!  In the final coup de grace, Matthew is so obsessed with getting girlfriend #1 back, he is willing to dispatch would-be wife #2 without much commentary (something like, “Sorry, I love someone else.  See ya.”) 

Perhaps this kind of situation might play better with the benefit of French sensibilities and subtitles, but as a Hollywood production, it’s a hair-pulling exercise in frustration.  The plot shifts back and forth in time, from the present to the past, with little explanation of which time is which (not to mention a dream sequence).  Then there are the characters that all know each other several different ways, none of them very believable, and themes of duality that don’t jibe well with the story as a whole.  It’s not a terribly novel idea for a story (call this a lifting of the themes of Vertigo and an interpolation of the plot to Single White Female), and as presented, quite a bore. 

Wicker Park is a good-looking but empty film -- pretentious, bland and overly ambitious to a fault.  Perhaps the French might have made this premise fly, but in Hollywood, the deft hand of Alfred Hitchcock is sorely missed.

Qwipster's rating:

©2004 Vince Leo