The Reeler


February 23, 2007

Gray Matters

Manhattan coming-out comedy brain dead on arrival

How many times must we be subjected to opening montages of the New York City skyline before filmmakers realize that it’s a trite and pretentious device? True, Woody Allen's memorable introductory sequence to Manhattan, which displays every famous hotspot under the sun against George Gershwin’s inimitable "Rhapsody in Blue," holds its own as a lyrical expression of urbanity. But that's Woody Allen; his movies are off-putting when they’re not in New York. The first few minutes of Gray Matters showcase a slew of familiar architectural sights from the metropolitan area, with all the pizazz of a tourist brochure. It's enough to set eyes rolling even before the plot kicks in; and in this case, that’s saying something.

The vapidity of Gray Matters is actually encapsulated by its mediocre opening; the script and story appear intent on unoriginality. It's the coming-out tale of 30-something Gray (Heather Graham), and while that alone would have granted it merit about twenty years ago, years after queer politics paved a niche in current cinema and climbed Brokeback Mountain, a story dealing with homosexuality has to be good, not just brave. Gray Matters isn’t even that -- it's just bland. Is this how far we've come?

First time director Sue Kramer apparently wanted to recreate the chemistry of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, specifically by giving Gray a brother named Sam (Tom Cavanagh) with whom she dances and exchanges annoying one-liners. Their close relationship becomes seriously threatened when Sam falls for the woman of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan) and decides to marry her on a whim. There's a problem, you see: Gray loves her too! And she’s, like, conflicted! Cue countless scenes where the character pontificates on whether it’s worthwhile for her to come out of the closet. You’ve got to admire this movie’s guts, literally: With its innards strewn across every scene, you can see exactly where the obvious storytelling mechanisms are headed at every moment. At least its an impressive mess.

Two minor roles in the movie deserve notice for supplying Gray Matters with its only redeeming value. Gray’s ditzy coworker Carrie (Molly Shannon) has a terrifically histrionic monologue in which she makes a dark forecast for Sam’s married life based on her over-familiarity with All My Children. Alan Cumming also does a competent job in his small bit as Gray’s friend and voice of reason. He plays an affable Scotsman who helps her come to grips with her conscience -- usually while schlepping her around in his taxi -- providing the rational thought that the rest of the screenplay sorely lacks.

Movies like Gray Matters seem to love indulging in the insipid conflicts most recently popularized by Sex and the City, where attractive rich folks bitch about their chaotic love lives before ultimately making some sort of peace with themselves. The premise sometimes leads to decent work, often through the magic of good writing and performances. In this case, the cast tries their best, emitting spunk and smiles at every turn, but Kramer gives them very little substance to work with. Romantic comedies have an inbred proclivity for superficiality, but Gray Matters lacks the important cognitive material of its title.

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