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Joe Bob's Drive-In: 'Unfaithful'

By JOE BOB BRIGGS, Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas   |   June 12, 2002 at 11:57 AM   |   Comments

Every time Adrian Lyne makes a movie, people line up to see who can sneer at him first. At least 10 major national critics accuse him of being a "soft-core porn" sensationalist. He's all style and no substance. He's a poseur. He's a hack.

And yet people talk about his movies for years. People are still talking about "Fatal Attraction," 15 years later. Even the worst movie he ever made, "Indecent Proposal," created a national sensation and led to more than one domestic dispute. Then there was "9½ Weeks," which remains today the standard by which many people rate their fantasy sex life.

If he hadn't made "Flashdance" I would say the man is a genius, but I'm afraid "Flashdance" is one of those cardinal sins for which there is no absolution.

Anyway, once again it's "Dogpile on Adrian" time. This time the movie is "Unfaithful," which is so hot that many women are afraid to see it with their husbands or boyfriends. The man has made a movie about a woman so carnal that you feel like her clothes could melt off her at any moment. And what happens? Critics praise Diane Lane's performance as the suburban-housewife-turned-sex-maniac, implying that she managed to pull it off in spite of Lyne, because surely that simpleton couldn't have had anything to do with the subtlety of her performance.

Lane is hot and sexy and wound-up and uninhibited in the movie, but let me explain something: She can do that all day in her living room, and if somebody doesn't know how to film it, it will look like a cheap porn video from Van Nuys. The reason we know what's going on behind those eyes and underneath that multiorgasmic torso, is that Lyne filmed it.

Good grief. This is a great movie, and so many of the things being written about it are just plain FACTUALLY wrong. For example:

1. "Her affair with the French stud is unmotivated." This could only be written by someone who hasn't had sex since 1967. Why would she stray from such a nice marriage? the argument goes. She's married, after all, to Richard Gere! We're given enough information to know that they do have a sex life, they both love their son, and they both love the house they've bought together in the suburbs.

OK, quick digression. Where exactly is the house? The critics can't even agree on this. I've read that it's in Connecticut, on Long Island and in Westchester County. Even the critics who place it in Westchester don't agree WHERE in Westchester. Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune places it in White Plains, but the train station is obviously by the Hudson, so THAT'S wrong. It's obvious that these people have a house, not just in Westchester, but a house that OVERLOOKS the Hudson. So we're talking a $2 million house minimum. It's important because it's yet something else she's about to screw up -- the family wealth.

Anyway, the Diane Lane character's name is Constance (OK, the irony is a little heavy-handed, but I like it, because in her way she IS constant), and Constance goes shopping in Soho during a tornado (I haven't seen this much wind since the hurricane sequence in "Hawaii") and ends up falling down in a big heap of shopping bags and books with a Eurotrash antiquarian book dealer named Paul (the ultimate evangelist, right?), and pretty soon he's doctoring her knee in his scruffy sensuality-oozing way -- and she's hooked.

First of all, she doesn't IMMEDIATELY jump into bed with him. But we know that she wants to, and I think that's what bothers people. They think as a Sunday School teacher thinks: "Well, she must be unhappy in her marriage." But ... not necessarily!

So she broods about it. She calls him -- twice -- and pretty soon the two of them are having Olympian animal sex as they work their way through the Dewey Decimal System in his $2 million residence, a loft on Mercer Street.

Anyone who thinks this wasn't motivated failed to look at Lane's face. It's interesting to me that nobody thought it was strange when Michael Douglas strayed from the gorgeous Anne Archer for Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction," but so many people have trouble believing that Lane could do this to Gere. It's that brain lobe in the utter depths that does respond at a particular moment in time and goes endorphin-crazy and starts pumping. Women have it, too!

2. "The film is immoral because it celebrates guilt-free affairs." In other words, they want the anguished Celia Johnson in "Brief Encounter" -- who, by the way, never does have sex with Trevor Howard. Constance not only has sex, but revels in it, can't get enough of it, and goes to any lengths to get more of it, even if that means, in one scene, leaving her kid sitting at school for an hour.

First of all, the allegation is not entirely true. The single best scene in the whole movie shows Constance returning home on an almost-empty train after a very messy afternoon. She's disheveled and well-ravished. As you watch her emotions, she's wracked with guilt, but she's also glowing. She's hugging herself. She's luxuriating in her body. Both things exist at the same moment.

This is not a TV movie. In the Lifetime version, we would get a scene of her in her best friend's kitchen, telling her how great the sex is but also acknowledging that she knows it's wrong. Among other things, isn't the Lyne version more complex and therefore more interesting? She actually hides the affair from her best friends. It's only for her. But that does NOT mean that she doesn't love Gere.

Now. If you haven't seen the movie, stop reading now. I've got to discuss the ending, because this is where the Adrian Lyne Haters are focusing their heavy artillery.

3. "The ending is a cop-out." In the final scene of the movie, Gere and Lane are in their SUV, their son sleeping in the backseat, and they're plotting their escape from the nightmarish crime they're both now part of. They talk of changing their names, moving away, becoming new people, living in Mexico on the beach. "People do it every day."

And then the camera cranes up to reveal that they're sitting motionless at an empty intersection in the middle of the night. To the right of their car is a police station. The traffic light cycles from red to green and back to red, but they never move.

This ending has been attacked -- just to use one example, by Rick Bentley in The Fresno Bee -- as "unresolved, unredeemable and unforgivable." Charles Cassady Jr. in the Cleveland Free Times said what a lot of critics thought when he wrote, "'Unfaithful,' after its dark emotional angst, just leaves the viewer stuck, literally, at an intersection, pondering the meaning of it all."

And yet it's a classic film noir ending. They're totally immobilized by their guilt. The ending is perfect. It's so perfect I'm thinking about forgiving Adrian Lyne for "Flashdance."

Web site for "Unfaithful": unfaithfulmovie.com.


(To reach Joe Bob, go to joebob-briggs.com or e-mail him at JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)

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