Explaining the film - or even saying what genre it's in - is a bit tricky. Josh Hartnett plays a young ad executive named Matthew, who's obviously done well in parlaying a job as a camera repairman into a creative position in New York. Briefly back in his old home town of Chicago before jetting off to China, Matthew abruptly runs into old pal Luke (Matthew Lillard) and catches what he's sure is a glimpse of old girlfriend Lisa (Jessica Lange-lookalike Diane Kruger, last seen as Helen of Troy). Luke - on the cusp of marrying his boss's daughter (Jessica Paré) - is thrown into such a panic he blows off his trip overseas. What unfolds over the next two hours is the story of Luke and Lisa - how they met, how they abruptly split up, and the strange mysteries that are hidden in the past.
Matthew's desperate search for Lisa at once feels like a noir and a romantic drama - the mood is so confusing (and the constant time shifting between present and past don't help) that at one point my guest turned to me and asked if the movie was a murder mystery. It certainly feels like it's going to turn into one, with surprise revelations, water left running in hotel rooms, and creepy synth/xylophone music at every turn.
But at its heart, Wicker Park finally reveals itself to be a romance, just the strangest one you've ever seen. At its heart is a fourth character, played by Rose Byrne, who, for reasons of avoiding plot spoilers, I can neither describe or even give her character's name. Byrne is incidentally the prime reason you should see this movie: She imbues her character with all the uncertainty and obsession of a teenager who never really grew up. Lillard, who genuinely has never grown up, adds the perfect amount of comic relief to some serious goings on.
Amidst all its seriousness, it's a bit easy to dismiss Wicker Park as mere arthouse masturbation, and that's a fair criticism. But there's a je ne sais quoi about the film that transcends what might otherwise be mere art for art's sake and makes it pleasantly enjoyable. Try as you might to hate the wooden and pasty-faced Hartnett and the badly cast Kruger, you can't help but hope they find each other in the end. Really, though, it's Byrne who carries the movie on her shoulders. Though you're not even supposed to root for her, I wanted her to end up the happiest of the lot.
I've not been a fan of any of director Paul McGuigan's films to date (The Acid House, Gangster No. 1, The Reckoning), but this departure from movies about drugs and killing is an apt one. The atmospheric mystery he tries to create isn't perfect, but it's solid enough, and as a meditation on teen relationship angst writ large, it works. Give it a shot and soak it in.
The DVD release includes a large number of deleted scenes, a gag reel, and commentary by McGuigan and Hartnett.
On sale: Wicker furniture at Pier One.
Run time: 114 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd September 2004
Box Office USA: $12.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $13M
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Lakeshore Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 100
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenwriter: Brandon Boyce
Starring: Josh Hartnett as Matthew, Rose Byrne as Alex, Matthew Lillard as Luke, Diane Kruger as Lisa, Christopher Cousins as Daniel, Jessica Paré as Rebecca, Vlasta Vrána as Jeweller, Amy Sobol as Ellie, Ted Whittall as Walter
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