XX/XY (2002) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Maya Stange, Kathleen Robertson, Petra Wright, David Thornton, Kel O'Neill  
Director:  Austin Chick
Screenplay: Austin Chick

Review published January 19, 2003

XX/XY marks a terrific debut from writer/director Austin Chick (August, Girls Against Boys), and if he didn't draw inspiration from his own life experiences, it's that much more of an impressive accomplishment.  Although much of the film centers around the decadent lifestyle of some very promiscuous college kids in the beginning, it never is gratuitous.  Instead, it is a complex character study of a man who has an inability to commit himself to what he wants, never wanting to throw away a good thing, yet too afraid of opening himself up completely to that which he thinks he desires.

The tale is told in two stages, almost a decade years apart.  1993 sees a rather wild college party where Coles (Ruffalo, The Last Castle) gets together with two women, Thea (Robertson, Scary Movie 2) and Sam (Stange, Garage Days).  Feeling a little hedonistic, the three get together in private to "have a little fun," but deeper feelings begin to bubble up to the surface.  Coles lives for the moment, enjoying things for what they are, but there is definitely a connection between himself and Sam that can only be love.  Sam keeps looking for Coles to take the relationship one step beyond, but Coles is stagnant, and his decision making mostly absent.  Then things end.

Several years later, Sam and Coles literally bump into each other in a chance meeting.  Sam is just back from a botched engagement, while Coles is in a serious relationship of his own with live-in girlfriend, Claire (Wright, The Pact).  Thea is now married and still friends with Sam, so they all get together to catch up on old times.  Problems begin to surface when the feelings between Sam and Coles drive them to want to see each other, yet Coles is once again conflicted about what he wants, as he is in love with two different women who love him the same way.

XX/XY is a very subtle film, and often quiet and contemplative, yet draws you in completely with finely tuned characterizations.  Chick's script is full of honest truths about relationships, yet never preachy about its positions.  These are some very mixed-up people, and most of their feelings lie underneath the surface, just on the verge of eruption.  Their communication is through a look or a glance, not with words.  Feelings are given in the seemingly innocent touch of someone else's arm, or the tears that emerge in the eye despite the protests of being "fine."

The direction is equally impressive, slow in its development, yet always pushing forward even in the quiet times.  There is no good or evil to any of them, just people who want to do good, despite being attracted to selfish impulses, and somehow falling short regardless of their honest intentions.  The film is stylish without being flashy, utilizing skillful technique to set the mood for each particular scene.  It's an amazing accomplishment for someone with so little experience.

However, all of this would have been for naught without the quality performances by the actors.  Granted, not all of the performances are brilliant, as Ruffalo  is occasionally underwhelming, especially when playing next to some very skillful actresses.  Maya Stange as Sam is excellent, and although most of her time onscreen is spent listening or asking questions, we always seem to know how she feels and what she's thinking without the need for any explanation.  Equally standing out is Petra Wright as Coles' girlfriend, Claire, who feels a bit out of sorts seeing a new side to him despite five years together.  Despite her statements that she is strong and can take the truth, you get the sense that deep down, she is motivated by doubt and a need for something more out of her man.

XX/XY has gotten some mixed reviews by other critics, and with a film this personal and subtle, I'm not surprised why.  Not everyone can relate to the characters and feelings, as these are some very confused people in complicated circumstances, doing some things through personal weaknesses that others cannot comprehend or condone.  There is an uneasiness, as people are never quite as happy as they should be, and even if the film tries to be upbeat, there is an overriding sense of uncertainty that always lingers in the distance.  But then, the same can be said about any relationship, which makes XX/XY feel all the more real.  Excellent stuff from an up-and-coming talent.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo