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A sharply acted film that manages to be both sexy and thoughtful, XX/XY asks uncomfortable questions about the tricky business of passion. The opening half-hour details an immature college relationship between Mark Ruffalo and Maya Stange; cut to 10 years later, when the two meet again as "grown-ups" and have no idea what to do with their old feelings. Director Austin Chick bravely allows his characters to be messed-up and uncertain, and the actors respond with complex performances: Ruffalo confirms the promise of his You Can Count on Me breakthrough, Stange is a heartbreaking Australian discovery, and Petra Wright shines as Ruffalo's new girlfriend, who has more to her than we first suspect. This film was somewhat lost in the shuffle of 2002's indie releases, but it deserves a look for its clear-eyed embrace of all the gray areas that often get left out of movies. --Robert Horton
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I left the theater annoyed, wishing that Ruffalo would find another vehicle for his talents like the wonderful YOU CAN COUNT ON ME.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Kathleen Robertson gives her usual performance (playing a similar character she portrayed in another film about a threesome, Greg Arakki's far superior SPLENDOR) but she's pretty darn good. There is definitely something about her that manages to brighten up a scene. She has such charisma and a charming personality, but unfortunately, her character is lost underneath the drama of the other two in love. I would have loved to have seen more done with her character.
Mark Ruffallo is Coles, a former director with only one film to his credit, who is now a commercial artist. Maya Stange is Sam, the woman in the threesome he ultimately falls for. The three form an inseparable social group, doomed perhaps by their omnipresent sexual tension. Of course, things don't go as planned and their relationship quickly spirals out of control until its destruction.
But 10 years later, with Coles now engaged, a chance encounter with Sam ignites old feelings and changes everything.
XX/XY is that rare film where we grow to genuinely care about the characters. Their romantic troubles are portrayed with a refreshing, open honesty missing from most Hollywood films. The incisive acting of Ruffalo, Robertson and Stange convincingly makes the point that these still-young males and females are just as stunted and confused as the rest of us.
XX/XY starts in the comfortingly familiar territory of out of control college kids, but writer/director Austin Chick has the confidence to push on and navigate the uncharted waters of reaching middle age. It all works well, aside from the fact that ten years later, these characters still look the same, maybe even better! However, the film itself is a great diversion from all the horrible films Hollywood throws our way, but definitely not for all tastes. This is a true independent film--dark, dreary, and slow, but fascinating and intriguing at the same time. There are better films out there, but hell, there have been a lot worse.
Although "XX/XY" is told as a linear story, during post-production they realized that it was too choppy and confusing for straight viewing and elected to label the scene transitions with a lot of on-screen titles. Although viewers will thank them for this last-minute fix, it is like making an explicit admission of writer/director Austin Chick's limitations and/or pre-production laziness. The final cut gives the impression that it wasn't until the actual assembly of this film that Chick gave any thought to the sequence for many of the scenes.
The bleak colors, inadequate lighting, and bland production design are depressingly consistent with the tone of the story. Don't expect to find anything uplifting except the Taco ads and the advertising agency parody.
Those expecting a script on the intelligence level of "Closer" (a similar premise) will be disappointed despite decent performances from the entire cast. I initially watched from the perspective of a Kathleen Robertson fan and was disappointed with her quite ancillary position in the story relative to Mark Ruffalo and Maya Strange. Although promoted as the story of a "carefree threesome", Robertson's Thea is just a third wheel in the Coles (Ruffalo)-Sam (Stange) relationship. Chick briefly gives Robertson something to do as she breaks Sid (Kel O'Neill), a shy puppy dog boy who she teasingly sleeps with once. But he goes nowhere with this, apparently it is just there to insure viewers dislike all members of the threesome, not just the principal two.
If you can manage to tough it out for a while, things get much better in the second half. The "Gatsby" ending is actually very good. Mostly this is because each member of the threesome has paired up in monogamist relationships with very likable people. By this point Coles has become the principal character as Chick begins to explore the mysteries of male discontent. The Coles' characterization is hard to buy into, there is just too much inconsistency as Chick tries to make him both a wimp and a "stick it to the man" rebel (I assume that this inconsistency is supposed to be the whole point for the movie). Although Ruffalo can adequately play either character he cannot perform the impossible and weave these disparate traits into a believable person.
The second half shows Coles involved in a long-term relationship with Claire (Petra Wright). Once her character is introduced, Wright proceeds to steal the remainder of the film, not just because she is the film's first well-adjusted character (and arguably most talented performer), but because her part is written so much better than the others. Claire's scene on the pier is the film's best moment and the one thing here that you will want to go back and view multiple times.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
This is one of those character study movies where the most important lines are left unspoken. That is probably the second biggest reason for the wide disappointment with this movie. Still, this is one movie where peeling beneath the surface yields a lot of great finds.
The Story and the Script
Mark Ruffalo's character is your run of the mill non-committal guy. Here they make his non-committal nature out to be a sin greater than infidelity or domestic violence. While the writer's value judgments are a stretch, Ruffalo's performance as Coles really carries this movie. Is it fun to watch his wishy washy portrayal for everybody? Probably not. But those who love acting and love getting inside the mind of actors will really enjoy seeing the incredible portrayal he has here that has completely flown under the radar.
The first half of the movie is your typical young jerk and needy girls type of relationship fare. There are several scenes and sequences that are clearly left out of place, most likely by supporting sequences that have since been edited out or were never filmed. Still, there is a lot of foundation here. We see his relationship with the girl he chooses, Sam played by Maya Stange, and Thea, the one he keeps as a friend. Thea's character is also somewhat underdeveloped here.
When things end, they end badly. Granted that ending scene is done in a way to seem pointless or at least confusing. Yet they get their point across with it.
The second half of the movie is really what shines. We see his emotional neediness emerge as the women from his past return to his life. He tries to maintain *friendships* with them but the obvious friction creates the drama of the movie. The girlfriend he has been dating but not yet married is artfully portrayed by Petra Wright. While her total lines are few, she makes up for it by subtly building up her mood and a great fiery monologue.
Mark Ruffalo is very impressive. All the characters seem to have been written in a way that required understated portrayals. Perhaps that is why some will feel this moves *slowly*.
The four way (or in this case 5 way) relationship dynamics are bound to be compared to Closer, but they are really completely different movies. There is none of the extreme drama and exaggerated time elapsed emotion of Closer. Here we get to see these characters at two points in time, partly different and partly still the same.
Once again, there are several scenes that seem to have been included for self indulgence (Such as the one with the passerby who recognizes him and berates him for his work). And there were a few story elements that are also silly (I don't want to give a spoiler, but at the end of the movie look who's closing the door as Ruffalo goes back in the apartment.
Yet the resolution of the movie, while contrived, is made powerful by the strength of the actors really showing you the baseness of their characters.
While I can't rate this film much higher than 3 or 4, I highly recommend it to actors and lovers of independent film. If you can look past the slow moving parts, like me you will find yourself returning to this one to study the intricacies of the portrayal. Perhaps not the greatest choice for the general movie watcher, but students of acting can learn a lot from this one. Definitely check it out.