Laws of Attraction

(Peter Howitt, UK/Ireland, 2004)


Romantic comedies are often based on professional competition: duelling political candidates, heads of debating teams, star reporters ... The British-Irish co-production Laws of Attraction chooses the two best divorce lawyers in America, Audrey (Julianne Moore) and Daniel (Pierce Brosnan).

Of course, the fact that these two professionals deal on a daily basis with couples that are splitting up, paradoxically offers the perfect backdrop for their own, feisty attraction. Director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors, 1998) is unwisely working in the shadow of a classic here – the great Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn gender-role comedy Adam's Rib (1949), which was also about lawyers duking it out in court.

But where the Tracy and Hepburn characters were negotiating many years of marriage, these two heroes are only at the start of their adventure. Audrey is a hyper-logical control-freak while Daniel is romantic and impulsive. Several nights of hard drinking land them in some unexpected situations. Their first impulse is to deny what happens and take flight – but they keep remembering their frequent advice to their clients to stay put and work things out.

It is fun to watch Moore and Brosnan – not to mention Frances Fisher as Audrey's young-at-heart mother – give life to their roles, but many of the situations they inhabit are dreary. The film heads off for an extended, picturesque interlude in an Irish castle, the ex-dream-home of rock star Thorne (Michael Sheen) and fashion designer Serena (Parker Posey) – but it hardly helps spark up the plot.

Writers Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling have been previously associated with mediocre romantic comedies such as The Evening Star (1996) and Three to Tango (1999), and the association carries over here. A bland, middlebrow culture smears itself across virtually every scene – Elton John on the soundtrack, jolly Irish dancing or sexy Cuban musos in the images.

Only Thorne's anachronistic Ziggy Stardust-style act scores a point for comic incongruity; the final credits reveal this to be a special contribution co-composed and performed by the director himself.

© Adrian Martin July 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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