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Laws of Attraction (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Laws of Attraction


Starring Pierce Brosnan, Julianne Moore, Michael Sheen, Parker Posey, Frances Fisher, Nora Dunn, Heather Ann Nurnberg, Johnny Myers, Mike Doyle, Allan Houston, Annie Ryan, Vincent Marzello, Sara James, John Discepolo, Annika Pergament, Marc Turtletaub, Gordon Sterne, Brette Taylor, Brendan Morrissey and Elva Crowley.

Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling.

Directed by Peter Howitt.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 87 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Julianne Moore is one of the five best dramatic actresses working regularly in film today. She has brought amazing depth and feeling to her roles in films like Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Vanya on 42nd Street and her acclaimed work in The Hours (I hated that pretentious, depressing, boring film… but Moore was terrific in it.) She is also one of the few serious actresses who can pull off cheesy genre work (Hannibal, The Fugitive, Lost World: Jurassic Park II, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle).

However, she has never really been known for her light touch. The rare occasions that she has delved into comedy have been pretty disastrous… Nine Months, The Big Lebowski and Evolution were all nearly unwatchable. Laws of Attraction is a better comedy than any of these films, but it doesn’t really work either. Honestly, much of the blame lays right at the feet of Julianne Moore.

Not that there aren’t a lot of things that just don’t work in this film, but Moore’s strangely frigid reading of the female romantic lead role has to go to the top of the list.  Moore plays Audrey Woods, a driven divorce lawyer who has no place in her busy life for romance. So instead, Audrey throws herself into her work, gorges herself on junk food (Hostess SnoBalls are a particular favorite) and tries to rationalize her lifestyle to her feisty mother (Frances Fisher.) She takes respite from her loneliness in the fact that she has never lost a case. Both sides of her life are thrown into turmoil with the appearance of Daniel Rafferty.

Rafferty is also a star divorce attorney, who coincidentally has moved back to New York after a stint in Los Angeles. Daniel Rafferty is handsome, charming, funny, smart and disarmingly eccentric. (Sometimes needlessly eccentric, despite the fact that he is one of the top divorce attorneys in New York, he has a tiny, cluttered office in Chinatown, clearly only because the screenwriter thought it would be quirky to put him in the vibrant neighborhood.) He, too, has never lost a case. Even though she denies it (even to herself), Woods is immediately drawn to the handsome litigator.

Brosnan, who is not really known for his comic work either (though his performances as James Bond at least gave him practice with a pithy line) is nearly perfect in the role. He nails Rafferty in a way that Moore doesn’t come close to.

Everyone in the world besides Audrey realizes that the two of them are meant to be together, but she still irrationally fights off her urges. She refuses to give Rafferty an inch and treats him harshly. Honestly, we never know what it is that Daniel sees in Audrey. She is uptight, manipulative, insecure, obsessively competitive, casually cruel and nearly incapable of expressing a real emotion. However, he does find Audrey intriguing, and after an impulsive (and drunken) one night stand he tries to manufacture opportunities to spend time with her.

Not that it is that hard.  Their courtroom battles become legendary in the New York press (really, I’ve never known that there was that much ink spent on high profile break-ups.) Their waltz around their own urges comes to a crescendo when they are handling the divorce of a decadent rock star (Michael Sheen) and his angry fashion designer wife (Parker Posey.) These characters are worse than stereotypes, they are truly unbelievable as characters. I’m particularly disappointed in Posey, who was a very respected indie actress before she gave in to the big money offered playing stupid supporting roles in movies like this and Josie and the Pussycats and You’ve Got Mail.

The two clients only insist on keeping one thing, an ancient castle they owned in Ireland. So, the two lawyers fly separately to Ireland to see the castle and interview the staff. (Are they getting billable hours for this?) This leads to some unlikely fish out of water humor for the two of them. Audrey can’t rent a car because they are closed on Tuesdays, despite the fact that a no-nonsense lawyer like her would never leave it up to chance to find an auto when she got there. Daniel apparently has forgotten how a security brake works. The two end up having to walk to the castle, bickering and flirting all the way. They find the castle and are charmed. At a local festival Audrey starts to loosen up again, and after a drunken night they wake up married.

This of course opens up lots of crazy complications that would never happen in the real world. Word leaks out that they are married. Audrey decides they have to pretend to be a happy couple so that their careers won’t be ruined (no, I didn’t follow that logic, either…) Rafferty, on the other hand, likes the idea of actually being a happy couple. So, he moves into her apartment, where she promptly puts a lock on her door… which makes no sense whatsoever. Even if she didn’t love him, which of course she does, did she expect him to break into her room? They live the lie, become friends, laugh, fight, break-up, and finally acknowledge they love each other. All done in predictable classic romantic sitcom style. No one ever doubts how the film will end, and the movie does not disappoint with it’s by-the-book finale.

A possible problem with this film is that a similar storyline was done much better and more surprisingly last year with Intolerable Cruelty. But even though Laws of Attraction is not a very good film, I do have to admit I did for the most part enjoy it as a light distraction. As for Julianne Moore, I think she better go back to what she’s good at. (4/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004 All rights reserved. Posted: May 30, 2004.

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