Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
Within the first few scenes, you’ll get it. This relationship will go south. Director Dana Adam Shapiro takes several risks, though, and gives us a reason at least to see it through to the end. Wedding photographer Theo (Chris Messina) and his girlfriend Nat (Rashida Jones) are engaged to be married, despite some reservations. Theo’s side business, Gumshoot, involves him taking inconspicuous, stalker-like photos of his clients that they seem to use for their personal enjoyment. When a mysterious woman, in contact only through email and going by the handle Subgirl (Meital Dohan), commissions photos of herself masturbating in a park and screwing some dude in the back of a sedan, Theo finds himself less and less interested in his own relationship, and when Nat is hospitalized, he’s left alone at home with only his photos and his imagination.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Gumshoot would see a sexual assignment. However, Theo and Nat, with whom he shares the first round of Subgirl shots, seem confounded that someone would want photos like these. Wouldn’t sex be the obvious go-to for a service like this one? It would be naïve to think otherwise, yet that word doesn’t apply to a director like Shapiro, who doesn’t shy away from sexual intensity. Several sequences find Theo pleasuring himself, too (in the bathroom of his friend’s bar and after rummaging through his absent fiancée’s personal belongings).
When Theo gets manic, Monogamy gets better. He pores over the details of his shots like a detective, zooming in to uncover bits of information about who this woman might be, recalling the best of films like Blow-Up (1966). Whatever inconsistencies there are overall, Shapiro undeniably understands how to turn these moments into compelling scenes. In fact, the images of Subgirl are the best reason to check this film out. Appearing to Theo always at a great distance, her face obscured by unfettered, flowing blond hair, she is dangerous and sexy at the same time. It’s impossible to miss the excitement and voyeuristic thrill here. The question is whether she or Theo is the subject of these performances. Who is the artist and who the muse?
That said, I can’t get past Nat and her nearly weeklong hospital stay. I hate to nitpick on plot details, but this is just too convenient. Her absence, however scripted, sets the conditions for something deep in Theo to materialize. Contrary to what the title may suggest, this film is not about monogamy. I buy that this man has doubts about marriage, but it obviously goes deeper. He’s obsessive. A troubled engagement isn’t a high enough stake—I’m more interested in what this Subgirl episode means to Theo. It’s not necessarily unhealthy to leap into the kind of intense investigation like he does. In fact, it resembles something usually desired but found lacking in weepy relationship dramas—passion. If he’s not able to control it, though, a failed relationship is only the beginning for him.
This is not
a film about Nat, or even about Theo and Nat. In several of her opening
scenes, Jones reveals palpable, human doubt, yet the rest of the story
is stolen away (or given away by the director) to Theo and Subgirl and
their burgeoning, however unconventional, relationship. I would have
said it’s another painful example of a male aggressor and objectified
female, but Theo is the big loser here. I believe Shapiro is
describing the failure of the male gaze to adequately capture what it
sees. Theo is ineffective, and by the end, he’s the mere tool of his
more powerful and responsible “subject.” Perhaps, this film seems to
say, the camera should be turned inward.