Sunday, February 3, 2013

What Happened Last Night?

Several months back I was stuck at home sick for a few days and decided to start watching some of the movies languishing away in my Netflix queue. One of those movies was the 2010 film Last Night starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Guillaume Canet, and Eva Mendes. Prior to the movie's release, I had seen Keira Knightley on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart promoting the movie and decided to look it up. It sounded interesting enough to watch, although not necessarily on the top of my list, hence the eventually getting around to it much later.

Last Night is the story of Michael and Joanna, a married couple living in New York. It starts off with the two attending a party and Joanna becoming jealous of Michael's co-worker Laura, who she is certain Michael has feelings for despite his protestations to the contrary. After arguing with Joanna all night about Laura, Michael leaves for a business trip with two of colleagues - and you guessed it, one of them is Laura. While they're away, it's clear that Laura and Michael are indeed attracted to one another. Meanwhile, back in New York, Joanna runs into her old boyfriend Alex, a man who Michael has never met or even heard about in the past. With Michael away for the evening, Joanna and Alex make plans for the evening and it's clear that there are unresolved feelings between the two.

My feelings on this movie are a bit of a mixed bag. I found it captivated my interest throughout and made me think, which are some great attributes. There's some fine acting involved, especially from Knightley, so that tips the scales in its favor. And it's one of those slice of lives type movies that I enjoy so much, so that's another plus. But generally speaking, I feel like even with slice of lives movies that have characters who feel very real, there's something almost universal about the characterizations or themes. Basically there's something that seems recognizable to the viewers as applicable to their lives. Somehow I just didn't get that feeling from Last Night for nothing seemed universal, with the exception maybe of Michael's comment that "You can be happy and still be tempted." This seems like apt commentary that could fit a variety of situations, not just the remark of a husband sitting face-to-face with a beautiful co-worker while away from his wife for the evening.

Instead of a feeling of universality, this movie is very much about the specific situations of this set of four characters, none of whom are particularly likeable in these scenarios. Joanna hiding her past relationship with Alex from Michael is ridiculous, especially considering that she still sees occasionally sees Alex. If she really wishes she could get over him, talking about that relationship with Michael would be a good first step. Still, their almost-tryst is far less frustrating to me than Laura’s persistence in pursuing Michael despite knowing that he is married and having only met him within the last few months (so there is no shared past together to call upon and perhaps somewhat justified the illicit relationship). Her cavalier attitude towards affairs was just a bit much for me – she admits to feeling both mad and sad when she found out she was cheated on, but she doesn’t stop to think for a moment what her current actions might mean for Joanna … and Michael as well.

By the end of the movie, you feel almost bad for the characters of Michael and Joanna, who both have these secret lives and loves hidden from one another, even if it is a problem they've willingly wrought upon each other. Of course, there is a slight indication at the end that Michael might realize something is up, although it's unclear how much he has or will uncover. And, Joanna had started out the movie thinking Michael was having an affair, although later she thinks that she “knows” Michael and that he would never do that to her. It’s really a rather damning portrait of marriage in particular but also the human predicament as a whole - one can never really know another person or be known by another in entirety. So perhaps I was wrong and there is an element of universality to this movie after all. You just have to think about this movie a lot and then let it settle for a few months before coming to that conclusion.

At any rate, Last Night is far from your typical Hollywood fare of predictable plots and neatly tied up in a bow endings. It is far more character-driven than many other films (albeit the characters might be a bit hard to stomach at times), and we learn a lot about these characters even if we see them for less than two whole days of their lives. If you enjoy slice of life type movies or those that focus more on characterization than anything else, Last Night might be the movie for you. It'll at least give you some food for thought to chew over for several months.

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