Addicted to Love

(Griffin Dunne, USA, 1997)


Times are tough for romantic comedies. Addicted to Love is proof that this genre has entered its baroque, mannerist phase – desperately trying to devise the most ingenious, convoluted twists upon the same old ingredients. The result, in this case, is an unwieldy, uncertain mixture of predictable romantic intrigue, black comedy and a set of elaborations and complications reminiscent of seedy, erotic thrillers.

Sam (Matthew Broderick) is a boyish astronomer and a hopeless, naive romantic. When his old flame Linda (Kelly Preston) suddenly ditches him and heads for New York, a perplexed Sam gives chase. After spying her in a passionate squeeze with Frenchman Anton (Tcheky Karyo), Sam decides to set himself up in the tenement opposite their flat, so he can watch them with the aid of a camera obscura.

Sam is a familiar figure of romantic comedy: a rationalist who believes that human emotion can be observed, quantified and predicted, exactly as he predicts the behaviour of stars and planets. (Another take on the rationalist astronomer is offered by the Greek film A Touch of Spice [2003].) Then into his makeshift observatory crashes the wild punk Maggie (Meg Ryan), Anton’s jilted ex, bent on instituting cruel and canny revenge schemes. Sam and Maggie form an odd and uneasy alliance as they engage in mutual voyeurism.

It is not hard to predict, from very early on, exactly where Addicted to Love is going. Along the way, it is peppered with some striking, unusual and perverse inventions: caustic commentaries on the Book of Love, with its rituals and patterns; moody montages of a fragmented, urban world at twilight set (as in the French film Irma Vep [1996]) to the music of Ali Farka Toure and Serge Gainsbourg.

None of the actors are well cast or used. Broderick trots out yet again his stammering, wide-eyed innocent act. Ryan is never believable as the acidic, streetwise, aggro Maggie. And Karyo, a performer noted for his immense strength, charisma and dignity, is reduced to a pathetic cliché of the predatory, unkempt, manipulative French lover – and his physical misfortunes are presented with a spectacularly malicious glee. This is one of those in-grown American movies where anything remotely foreign is instantly rendered as menacing or downright evil.

Actor Griffin Dunne here makes his feature-directing debut. He strives to give the film the same busy, screwball, neurotic energy that characterised Scorsese’s After Hours (1985), in which he starred. But there is just too much self-conscious hipness built frantically around such a slender narrative frame, and the end result collapses in a heap.

All the same, Addicted to Love is a definite curiosity which encyclopaedic students of the romantic comedy genre will want to experience.

© Adrian Martin August 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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