19 September 2011

About Last Night

I thought about watching Last Night when it came out in cinemas a few months ago but never quite got around to it as I assumed, rightly, that it was the kind of film that would be fine to watch on TV or on DVD--or on a plane, which was where I watched it last week. I was attracted to it in part because of the similar-sounding set-up to Closer, which I like a lot, even though my view is far from universal.

Like Closer, Last Night is about four people and the relationships between them, although unlike Closer, it takes place over the course of three days rather than several years. Jo (Keira Knightley) is a freelance fashion writer, struggling to make headway on her second book. She lives in an amazing Manhattan apartment with her husband Michael (Sam Worthington). They are apparently happy until Michael takes Jo to a work party and she meets his attractive female colleague Laura and her suspicions are aroused. That night they fight but sort of make up over scrambled eggs just before Michael takes off on a business trip to Philly with—wait for it—Laura (Eva Mendes).

Soon after he leaves, Jo goes to get coffee and bumps into Alex (Guillaume Canet), a former lover of hers from Paris whom she hasn't seen for two years. He's only in town until the following day so they agree to go for a drink that evening. And then the film cuts between the two mis-matched couples as Jo and Michael are both sorely tempted by their respective offers of hot Frenchman and flirty co-worker.

I don't know if Last Night is based on a play but it definitely feels very stagey—you would really only need a few locations, Jo and Michael's flat, a bar, a restaurant and a hotel—and I don't think it worked as well as Closer. For one thing, although Canet is hot, he's no Clive Owen (especially when Clive's in sexy, angry, sad mode). For another, I was quite convinced by Knightley and Worthington as a couple; they had good chemistry, and their characters seemed genuinely happy together. In Closer, none of the characters, apart from Owen's Larry, are very likable. They lie and they cheat and they are selfish and they hurt each other and they are really good at messing up relationships. This makes for good drama, however, and Last Night just felt a little too low-key. I was fine with the ending, where Michael returns home and we do not find out whether either or both of them confess what—if anything—they may have done the night before.

But although Closer is sad at times, it is a lively film, filled with Patrick Marber's sparky dialogue, particularly in the break-up scene between Larry and Anna. The characters fight and shout and banter and cry. In comparison, Last Night just felt rather tentative and understated. If the characters have true feelings, true emotions and true passions, they try to hide them and they don't let the audience in enough to really care. That said, I thought Knightley's performance was quite strong, although the script didn't really give the three other leads much opportunity to shine. But my initial summary of "decent plane fodder" turned out to be pretty accurate.

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