Gray MattersReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/09/07 00:12:16
“Gray Matters” is a whimsical sex comedy that would have been infinitely better it contained less whimsy and more sex and comedy. It is a strange little film that tries to blend a potentially kinky and salacious premise with a safe and sweet-minded execution–a dirty-minded film that somehow remains squeaky-clean in its heart–but the two mindsets never come close to jelling. The result is a misfire that feels like what might have resulted if the writers of “Love, American Style” were suddenly charged with putting out the letters column in “Penthouse.”The opening scenes introduce us to Gray (Heather Graham) and Sam (Tom Cavanagh) and I guarantee that you haven’t seen a cuter couple in a long time–they live together in the same improbably huge apartment, jog together, do ballroom dancing together and all but finish each others sentences. The joke, however, is that Gray and Sam are actually brother and sister but they spend so much time in each others company (and not in the company of anyone else) that people who don’t know them just assume they are dating. Eventually, it dawns on them that their relationship might be a bit on the strange side and they resolve to find dates. The next day, Sam and Gray meet Charlie (Bridget Moynahan), the hot new oceanographer in town, and the two of them take her out for a whirlwind night on the town. During this evening, Sam recalls one of the most sacred rules of being a real man–the one that states that any man who finds himself within arm’s reach of anyone resembling Bridget Moynahan needs to latch on to her like grim death and never let go–and by the end of the evening, he proposes marriage to her and she immediately accepts.
The happy couple, with shocked Gray in tow, jet off to Vegas for the wedding and the night before the nuptials, Gray and Sam indulge in the typical activities that future sisters-in-law partake–they share a bubble bath, a stage with Gloria Gaynor and the kind of long, drunken kiss that usually caps off a freshman girl’s first kegger. Charlie immediately passes out and has no memory of it the next morning but Gray is distraught. For starters, she thinks that she may actually be a lesbian after all. (Of course, after a bubble bath and kiss with someone looking like Bridget Moynahan, even Elizabeth Hasselback might find herself investigating her Sapphic side.) More importantly, she is pretty certain that she is in love with her brother’s wife. However, Gray’s amazingly unhelpful shrink (Sissy Spacek in one of the most superfluous roles of her entire career) tells her that she was subconsciously trying to subvert the wedding to prevent the inevitable loss of her brother. For a while, Gray to overcome this by scheduling several dates on the same evening but even her cab drive/instant new best pal (Alan Cumming) recognizes that she is gay through and through. Eventually, she admits this to herself and begins to feel a lot better as a result. Sam is supportive as well, at least until the point when Gray tells him the identity of the object of his affection.
I can see how the premise of “Gray Matters” might work as either a straightforward drama or as a wild, taboo-breaking black comedy in which the basic plot idea is taking to its logical, if icky, conclusion–someone like Neil LaBute could conceivably do wonders with it. However, writer-director Sue Kramer apparently wants to titillate viewers while not doing anything that might make them uncomfortable. As a result, she keeps throwing punches at the audience only to pull them long before they threaten to connect. For a plot like this to conclude in a satisfactory manner, there are essentially only two ways it can end, depending on whether the film is trying to be serious or kinky. In the serious-minded version, there would be plenty of truth-telling and no small amount of lasting heartbreak. In the kinky version, I can see the three of them all deciding to shack up together as sort of an upscale “Jerry Springer Show” test case–sort of a friendly-family version of “The House of Yes.”
Without giving too much away, the film chooses neither and instead goes for the kind of mealy-mouthed conclusion in which no one is hurt too deeply, none of the scandals are truly resolved and Gray finds a rich and sexy girlfriend five minutes after entering her first lesbian bar in what will certainly be seen as a triumph for every budding lesbian in the audience that looks like Heather Graham. Then there is the whole matter of Gray somehow not realizing her true sexual orientation until locking lips (and nothing more) with Charlie–if she didn’t have an inkling as to her true nature up until then (even though people later tell her that her lesbianism was so obvious), why would she be willing to upend her entire life over something as relatively minor as that? Speaking of Charlie, her entire character is one long exercise in frustration and confusion. Ignoring the plot contrivance that she somehow can’t remember the kiss at all (even though she can remember the big sing-along), what are we to make of the fact that her characters comes across as more of a lesbian than anyone else in the film, yet she seems completely oblivious both to this and Gray’s more-than-obvious interest in her? (Making this even more inexplicable is the fact that her character is supposed to be studying homosexual tendencies in warm-blooded mammals yet she doesn’t seem to catch the tendencies coming from the warm-blooded mammal dipping her during an impromptu dance number.)
“Gray Matters” has such a weird and adolescent view of lesbian sexuality–it likes to suggest that such a thing exists in vague terms while parading around fabulous-looking babes in their underwear but shies away from even attempting to scratch the service–that if a man had directed it, I would have written it off as silly and juvenile. In fact, the film was written and directed by a woman and it is still silly and juvenile. Instead of tackling the central issues of the movie head-on, it goes off on silly tangents involving the characters fascination with old romantic movies (allowing them to cite numerous classic titles in an attempt to subliminally suggest that this one belongs among them), Gray’s struggles at the ad agency she works at or various forms of wackiness involving her best pal (Molly Shannon). Things begin to pick up somewhat when Alan Cumming arrives on the scene–he and Graham share a nice rooftop moment–but Kramer tosses that away for a forced bit in which Cumming winds up dressing in drag in order to sneak into a lesbian bar with Gray. In the most insulting aspect of the film, Gray delivers a long monologue/position paper in which she describes all the cruelties and prejudices that she is bound to face in the world as a lesbian. Nice sentiment but Kramer winds up subverting that plea for tolerance and sympathy a few scenes later by dragging in a stereotypical butch type for no other reason than to serve as the basis of a couple of punchlines. (Apparently, total acceptance is only afforded to the pretty lesbians of the world.)Despite the best efforts of Graham and Moynahan to keep things humming, “Gray Matters” is a failed bit of fluff that feels like an episode of “Will & Grace” that is four times longer than normal and which contains maybe a quarter of the actual wit. I can’t recommend it for gay audiences, the presumed target demographic, because they are likely to find it innocuous at best and downright insulting at worst. For those of you whose potential interest in the film lies elsewhere, all I can do is suggest that you visit YouTube, where the scene involving the big kiss is already in heavy rotation (I will have to check later to see if the bathtub bit has hit as well), and then take the money that you saved and spend it on a ticket for “Zodiac.” Sure, that film has precious little to do with lesbian-oriented romantic comedies but when you get to thinking about it, neither does “Gray Matters.”
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