Film Review – Third Person
I think a lot about what makes a film successful. I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about what makes a film work. There are a lot of crappy-ass movies that I really like and think work pretty well even though they aren’t great pieces of art. A recent example would be my first viewing of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I had a good time with this film, even though it’s nothing more than a goofy story effectively told. (And it stars Tom Atkins who is a fine actor.) It’s a piece of genre fluff, but it was clear about what it wanted to be and then it did what it took to be that thing. Success. (I know some people HATE that movie, but whatever.) While watching the new Paul Haggis film, Third Person, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell it was supposed to be. It’s obviously on the artier side of things, and it appears Haggis wants to convey something very personal about love. What that thing is, I have no idea. And I am pretty sure that if I did know, I would not want to.
Third Person contains one of Haggis’s interlocking, multi-threaded narratives. Or that’s what it says on the IMDb description. I didn’t notice that much interlocking, but maybe I missed some connections. Whatever; I’m game for some parallel narratives. What I’m not game for is a multi-threaded storyline involving three relentlessly unpleasant couples whose stories we follow to nowheresville. Michael (Liam Neeson) is a Pulitzer prize-winning awriter hunkered down in Paris working on his new novel. He is having an affair with the much younger aspiring writer Anna (Olivia Wilde) who is wildly unstable, for what we learn is a very good reason. Their relationship mostly consists of crazy mind games, and watching them tear at each other becomes increasingly horrifying. Meanwhile, in Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody) has just purchased some stolen suit designs and is biding his time until he can go home. He hates Italy and can’t wait to see the last of it. (You know his character is questionable because seriously, who hates Italy.) He meets a beautiful woman, Monika (Moran Atias) who is trying to get her daughter back from some very bad people. Or is she? Scott wants to help her. Or does he? Back in New York, Julia (Mila Kunis) is trying to get visitation rights to see her son, even though she may have done something terrible to him. Her ex Rick (James Franco) – a painter who paints with his hands instead of a brush – is fighting her tooth and nail because he wants to protect his son. Also, he kind of seems like a jerk. But Julia just can’t get her shit together and keeps making her situation worse.
So, this movie clocks in at 2 hours and 17 minutes, and if I am going to invest that amount of time in the lives of some annoyingly horrible people, then I want some kind of resolution. Just a little bit. I don’t need a happy ending or for anyone to get his or her just desserts; I just want a proper ending. But Haggis gives us some kind of arty, ambiguous, slippery nothing of a stopping point. Everything just shimmers into vagueness; I have no idea what I was supposed to take from the last 10 minutes of this movie. I am a painter, and I understand how hard it is to realize an idea; I sympathize with people who are artistically ambitious because failure is so much more probable than success. But seriously, WTF with this movie? There are two movies here. One is about annoying people. And one is about art. Neither one of them works.
Here’s what I did get out of it. Artists are crazy bastard manipulative people who will do really bad things to make good art. Everybody kind of sucks. Love is creepy. Don’t let your children go unsupervised ever. EVER. Everybody lies about the important stuff all the time. The world is a horrible place and there is no forgiveness, and if there were it would be too late. And honestly, those are valid things to make a movie about. Depressing, but movies don’t have to be fun to be good. But this movie isn’t good. Michael is one of the worst characters in any movie ever. Maybe. Is he living this story? Is he writing this story? Are art and life converging? Why is the hotel in New York where Julia works mirroring the events taking place in Paris. Is it a story? Who gives a crap? It’s a mess. A big messy mess. (I feel kind of crappy about trashing what looks to be some kind of personal statement. But this isn’t a noble failure. This is a completely-missed-the-mark-you-need-to-step-up-your-game kind of failure.)