Good movies don’t need to make perfect sense. But in the absence of logic, a film should compensate with something for the audience to latch on to, some kernel to awaken our emotions, whether that’s in the form of atmospherics, meaningful vignettes or dazzling acting.
“Molly’s Theory of Relativity” has its fleeting moments. But writer-director Jeff Lipsky’s purpose always seems just beyond reach.
The film opens with an argument. The titular Molly (Sophia Takal) is mostly a spectator as her husband, Zak (Lawrence Michael Levine), fights with his father, Asher (Reed Birney). The altercation arises because Asher has squandered most of his retirement, but that is merely an excuse to air latent grievances. Zak carries a lot of anger over his dad’s inability to fully appreciate the young man’s late mother.
Seemingly as an act of retribution, Zak announces that he and Molly, an out-of-work astrophysicist, are moving to Norway. (It’s hard to escape echoes of the children’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” in which the child protagonist threatens to move to Australia.)
The family fight doesn’t sound so out of the ordinary, except that Zak is unabashedly, embarrassingly juvenile. He may be married and pushing 30, but he tells his father, “You need to take care of me.” Zak’s proclamation, though pathetic, sets up a somewhat intriguing recurring theme of what our expectations are for our parents and our children as we age. But more on that later.
The movie transitions into an extended sex scene that should silence any complaints about gender inequality in cinematic nudity. Both Levine and Takal spend most of the first 18 minutes of the movie completely naked, engaging in so much touching and straddling that it was actually heartening to find out they are a real-life couple.
There seems to be a point to all this, but what is it, exactly? That they still love — or at least lust over — each other after five years of marriage? That, while Zak is a man-child, he’s also very much an adult? But before there’s time to fully contemplate the blunt bedroom behavior, the film becomes something else: a dinner party. People start showing up at Molly and Zak’s apartment, including Molly’s dead relatives, a little girl dressed as Einstein (it’s Halloween, so that isn’t quite as odd as it sounds) and a possibly imaginary neighbor, and they’re all congregating for a feast. Made by a dead woman.
This is a movie composed of conversations; even an act of sodomy is accompanied by a running dialogue. Some of the talk is interesting, especially when it comes to chatter between Molly and the specter of her mother. Their words raise questions about how our relationships with our relatives change (or don’t) as we age and how, even as we push our family members away, we can’t seem to escape needing them.
But there are so many other inane interludes and intentionally quirky touches that those subjects fade to afterthoughts. The movie features not one, but two precocious children, a cloying stock character that should be used sparingly, if at all. And much of the dialogue sounds fake, veering alternately toward cutesy and overly cerebral.
While the fabricated nature of the dialogue and characters become distractions, so do the hyper-naturalistic sex scenes. It becomes impossible to escape the filmmaker’s fingerprints on each orchestrated set-up, and they’re always pushing us away rather than drawing us closer.
Unrated. At Angelika Film Center. Contains language, nudity and graphic sex scenes.