Hoping for better, but in reality, it's for worse
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, March 18, 2011
“Monogamy” offers flashes of universality. Aside from the expansive title, Dana Adam Shapiro’s indie drama chronicles those familiar moments that turn out to be cracks in the facade of a seemingly healthy relationship. But the fact that the male half of this particular equation turns out to be so icky makes the proceedings difficult to relate to.
Theo (Chris Messina, taking a break from his nice-guy roles) is a wedding photographer engaged to Nat (Rashida Jones, on hiatus from comedy). They’re a prototypical Brooklyn couple right down to their transportation (bicycles), beverage of choice (beer), decorating skills (beads in place of a bedroom door) and hair (bangs for her, beard for him). They even play impromptu duets in their living room, you know, just for fun. But their coupledom begins to feel strained because of Theo’s side business, Gumshoot. Clients pay him to stalk and secretly photograph them to get — ostensibly — more natural shots.
But Theo’s new client, a buxom blonde who goes by Subgirl, is not like the others. She is an exhibitionist, to put it mildly. At about the same time Nat develops a staph infection and has to be hospitalized, Theo develops an obsession with photographing the increasingly racy Subgirl. Theo’s interest starts out relatively innocuously — he feels the need to obsessively tweak his e-mails to her — but before long, he is immersed in a fabricated story of her life.
If the story verges on a tragic tale, that’s because of Jones, who fully embodies the character of Nat. She emits the clear pain and confusion of a woman who’s losing a handle on the true nature of her relationship. She clearly wants to give her fiance space, yet she also misses his attention. She doesn’t want to nag him when he forgets to bring her guitar to the hospital, but she also makes clear that the toy ukulele he picked up at the hospital gift shop is a bit of a disappointment. When she sees some of Theo’s photos of Subgirl, she asks, “Do you like that?” — at once trying to appear open-minded, but also clearly frightened by what the response might be.
Jones’s command of her role is enhanced by the dark and grainy documentary-style footage, offering a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the drama. If only Theo didn’t become such a creep, this would be a promising rumination on fear of commitment.
Aside from the fact that he’s essentially becoming a pornographer who neglects his perfectly lovely girlfriend, Theo also begins exhibiting erratic behavior, including donning a dog mask and barking into a mirror and rummaging through his girlfriend’s belongings.
Despite the title, the movie is less about relationships than the character study of a most unlikable person. It’s enough to make you want Theo to really go off the deep end so that Nat will resolve to find a more worthy companion. It’s still a familiar story but one that's far less sweeping. It’s the one about the girl who everyone looks at and wonders, “What is she doing with that guy?”
Contains crude language and sexual situations.