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DVD Review: Oscilloscope’s ‘Monogamy’ Marred By Unlikable Lead

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CHICAGO – With so many unfaithful weiners crowding the daily news cycle, I suppose it’s as appropriate a time as any for a film like Dana Adam Shapiro’s “Monogamy.” As in the over-publicized Anthony Weiner case, the infidelity in Shapiro’s film never actually takes place. Instead of physical contact, the affair takes place entirely within the obsessive mind of a sexually frustrated voyeur.

Unfortunately, the voyeur is played by Chris Messina, a good actor who seems oddly incapable of garnering audience empathy. Every time his face shows up on the screen, I’m suddenly filled with the intense desire to punch it. Perhaps my reaction is simply due to the fact that Messina has delivered multiple memorable portrayals of oafish, self-absorbed masculinity. He played the allegedly lovable boyfriend in “Julie & Julia,” who devoured his wife’s carefully prepared dishes with all the etiquette of a slovenly swine.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 2.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 2.5/5.0

Yet that jerk was a real prize compared to Theo, the photographer in “Monogamy,” who allows his personal life to be upstaged by his hypnotic lens. Theo prepares for foreplay with his fiancé, Nat (Rashida Jones), by donning an animal mask, thus externalizing his barely repressed primal urges. Time and again, Nat fails to satisfy his physical desires, though the script by Shapiro and Evan M. Wiener never builds a convincing motivation for Theo’s downward spiral. Nat’s reasons for delaying sex are always justifiable, so much so that Theo seems to be viewing her solely as a slab of meat. His treatment of her throughout the film is deplorable, particularly when he abandons her in a hospital just so he can continue to stalk his new seductive client. Theo’s creepy new business, “Gumshoot,” invites people to be photographed by a hidden camera as they take part in their daily schedule. A mysterious blonde client (Meital Dohan) uses the service as an opportunity to be photographed while masturbating on a park bench. Needless to say, Theo is hooked.

Chris Messina and Rashida Jones star in Dana Adam Shapiro’s Monogamy.
Chris Messina and Rashida Jones star in Dana Adam Shapiro’s Monogamy.
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

This flawed yet nevertheless diverting film is the first narrative feature from Shapiro, whose brilliant 2006 documentary, “Murderball,” probed the unbreakable spirit, bullheaded determination and even the sex lives of the U.S. Paralympic Quad Rugby Team. Whereas that film did full justice to its richly complex subjects, “Monogamy” feels too pat in its morally cautionary tone. Theo is so transfixed by the eroticism of a still image frozen on his computer screen that he ignores the flesh-and-blood being in the next room. Abstractions consistently prove to be more enticing than reality because they are always readily accessible. But Theo is so severed from his fiancé’s own needs that it seems as though he would rather be engaged to a Playboy centerfold. His myopic selfishness is so repellant that it blocks the audience from sharing in his mounting obsessions. 

Monogamy was released on DVD on June 14, 2011.
Monogamy was released on DVD on June 14, 2011.
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

What nearly redeems the picture is Jones’s revelatory performance as Nat. Still best known for her sitcom work (she’s a regular face on “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”), Jones proves here that she is an actress with untapped dramatic potential. The best scene in the film takes place in one excruciating shot, as Theo attempts to break up with Nat by saying, “It doesn’t feel great not to be needed” (despite the fact that she’s needed him in the hospital for the last several days). The moment is well acted by both leads, and superbly paced by Shapiro, offering enough proof that he has vastly superior work ahead of him. Yet it is Jones’s heartbreakingly wounded reaction that is guaranteed to remain with viewers long after the final fade-out.
“Monogamy” is presented in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and includes an assemblage of less-than-insightful extras. Among the three brief deleted scenes is a hallucinogenic bike ride that looks like it belongs in an entirely different film altogether (perhaps one directed by Aronofsky). An outtake reel offers additional improvised riffs from the various married couples awkwardly photographed by Theo, while a Steadicam comparison contrasts the preliminary run-through of a key climactic shot (populated by crew members), with the sequence in its completed form. Shapiro and Wiener’s entire screenplay is available on the disc, but it can only be retrieved in PDF form. Oscilloscope’s typically excellent packaging includes an essay from critic Amy Taubin and an excerpt from Shapiro’s upcoming book, “You Can Be Right or You Can Be Married,” a compilation of anonymous relationship testimonials that served as inspiration for the script. My favorite extra by far is the music video for the film’s original song, “You Don’t Know (Nat’s Song),” beautifully performed by Jones with the help of Bummer and Lazarus. There’s also a plethora of trailers for infinitely superior Oscilloscope releases, including one of this year’s must-see gems, “Meek’s Cutoff,” which reunites Michelle Williams and director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”).

‘Monogamy’ is released by Oscilloscope Laboratories and stars Chris Messina, Rashida Jones, Meital Dohan, Zak Orth and Ivan Martin. It was written by Dana Adam Shapiro and Evan M. Wiener and directed by Dana Adam Shapiro. It was released on June 14, 2011. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

movie fan's picture

This is the most

This is the most unprofessional review I’ve ever read. You should be fired.

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