As a critic, there are numerous times where I have to suspend a prejudice before going into a theater. For instance, when I see the name Ashton Kutcher above the title I have to set aside my thoughts and let the movie play out before I go ahead and detail how he torpedoed the film. Conversely, I sometimes have to shunt my expectations on a good looking film and appraise it for what it is, not for what I wanted it to be.
Thus was the case with “The Laws of Attraction”. I was anticipating an intelligent comedy written by and for adults, with heavy amounts of discourse and wit thrown in freely. The fact is that I wanted this movie to work because there are relatively few films which are made with a sophisticated ear for dialogue and clever interpersonal devices. One need only look at “How to Lose a Man in 10 Days” to see this exercise done wrong. So with “Laws…” I had hopes that were not high, but at least reasonable.
The most painful part of seeing this movie is not the fact that it fails to deliver but that it actually came close. Many of the elements are in place, especially at the start of things, but then they are abandoned as the plot turns into a formula love story. This is a let down when you consider what could have happened.
Julianne Moore plays Audrey Miller, a crackling New York divorce attorney who graduated at the top of her class at Yale and is polished and vastly successful. Her steely façade is tempered when we see her in private become a wad of anxiety about her abilities, but she gathers herself up and leads the charge forcefully. That is until she enters the court one day and meets an opposing attorney, Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) who begins to slowly unravel the tightly wound image of the attorney. Rafferty appears to be an unkempt and scattered sort but soon starts to show most of his foibles are designed to keep his opponents on their heels.
Brosnan and Moore start the film with plenty of verbal jousting that is not all bombast and vitriol, and while they don’t show simmering chemistry their natural interactions are allowed to evolve and their invariable connection comes about in a very genuine manner. Rather than heated exchanges that mask true feelings (like the Hepburn and Tracy model) these two spar professionally and then personally in a game of one-upmanship that grows into something bigger. These are two professional actors who make the material work and their union looks natural as a result. Then the movie jumps off the track.
While their relationship becomes the talk of New York they find themselves on opposite sides of a media circus of a divorce case involving a rock star and his fashion designer wife, played by Parker Posey in a caricature role that allows her to do little. In a plot device straight out of television, the two lawyers/lovers find themselves going to Ireland for the case, and the movie abandons all of the effort and successful elements in order to deliver a rote love story. There are mix-ups and high drama but little in the way of surprise or tension. Or originality, for that matter. By the end, you hang on only for the hope the film might return to the things that worked in the beginning. As a way of proving my point, all of the attractive scenes shown in the trailers and commercials are taken directly from the opening half hour of the film.
While “Laws of Attraction” is not terrible, that is just not enough to recommend it. What could have been an enjoyable modernization of classic character stories becomes little more than a pedestrian romance tale. The first act worked, and worked well, but you see a clear departure from the moment the couple flies off to Europe. What is left is maybe one half of a good movie, and it is not enough to support the flagging remainder.