Set in the Wicker Park section of Chicago, this nonlinear romantic thriller introduces us to Matt, a young man being swept into a life he’s not sure he wants. He’s nearly engaged to a girl named Rebecca and has been putting in time with her brother’s ad agency. But there’s no fire in his belly. His true passions are photography and a lost love named Lisa, who disappeared from his life two years earlier.
As Matt begrudgingly prepares for an important business trip to China, he thinks he sees Lisa in a crowd and decides to try to track her down. Beijing can wait. A room key. An item from a cosmetics bag. A torn-up newspaper article. Each clue leads to another, though Matt is forced to wonder if they’re really leading him closer to Lisa, or if his eyes were just playing tricks on him.
During his quest, Matt reconnects with a randy old pal (Luke) and meets a mysterious young woman who may have some connection to his missing soul mate. But sex, lies and videotape (make that a digital camcorder) complicate Matt’s search for the truth and threaten to unravel the life he has spent the past two years putting together … especially once he learns that someone is pursuing him as doggedly as he is hunting for Lisa.
There’s clearly a difference between selfish infatuation and sacrificial love, even if the line drawn in the film isn’t as clear as it could be. Matt is a photographer who talks about the need to find beauty in the ordinary. There’s an element of truth in Luke’s statement, “That’s how the universe works. As soon as you decide about anything, along comes temptation.” Although she refuses to apologize for her deeds, a manipulative woman confesses her sins to the people she hurt. Luke shows tenderness to his emotionally distraught girlfriend.
A jeweler refers to diamonds as “God’s tears.”
Students practice slinky dance moves. Crass comments are common. Luke always has his mind tuned in to a sexual frequency. When Matt tells him Lisa is a dancer, he assumes he means a stripper. Luke talks about women’s features being “hot.” He tries to impress Matt by describing an all-night sexual encounter that never happened. Later he confesses that he came up empty and begs his buddy to schmooze the girl into giving in. Luke also downplays the notion of Matt choosing between Rebecca and Lisa, saying if it were him he’d keep them both and hope they don’t find out about each other.
Matt’s future brother-in-law warns him to resist “the bang-bang girls” while in China. Alex tells Lisa that she had relations with some physician in the doctor’s lounge, causing a playful Lisa to call her a slut and feign jealousy.
Off-color remarks don’t compare, however, to scenes of passion carefully edited to preserve a PG-13 rating. On their first date, Matt and Lisa get hot and heavy in her apartment and eventually wake up together. Matt asks Lisa to move to New York and live with him. After a case of mistaken identity, Matt spends the night on a stranger’s couch until the woman stirs him, disrobes and initiates sex. Luke and Alex spend the night together (she’s shown in her underwear the next morning).
A woman threatens to clobber an intruder with a blunt object and bites his hand.
Approximately 40 profanities include an f-word, over a dozen s-words and just as many blasphemous exclamations of “god,” “Jesus Christ” and “g–d–n.”
Several scenes of social drinking. Business colleagues toast a deal. Friends order cocktails (Seven & Seven, double vodka on the rocks). A girl drinks J&B straight from the bottle after sharing some with Matt. Rebecca gives Matt sleeping pills to help him relax on his flight. He takes a couple and passes out in a hotel room.
One character admits, “Love makes you do crazy things, insane things.” Indeed. Matt shirks his professional duty by letting personal desires keep him from flying to China. This film is also loaded with bald-faced lies, deception and manipulation.
Based on the French film L’Appartement, Wicker Park is a chaotically busy case of emotional cloak-and-dagger. It’s the meandering tale of an obsession within an obsession that proves the only difference between a hopeless romantic and a psychopathic stalker is whether or not the person’s affections are returned.
As a thriller, it’s sort of intriguing early on. Who is Lisa? What was her relationship with Matt? What will Matt find at the end of his string of cryptic clues? However, once the main characters’ motives are clear, all of the jumping back and forth between the present, the past and the deeper past (yes, even the flashbacks have flashbacks) gets tedious. And there are far too many instances of people standing in the snow, billows of breath condensing, waiting for a rendezvous that never happens. The only drama is how long it will take Matt and Lisa to connect and how far another character will go to keep it from happening.
Heartthrob Josh Hartnett’s perpetually sorrowful eyes and bedraggled smile do most of his acting for him, insisting that we pity Matt, who is a whipped puppy of a man. He’s a pathetic poster child for lost love. But how much pity can we muster for a guy who is practically engaged to one woman, obsessed about reconnecting with another, and willing to—on a whim—sleep with a third girl he just met? The whipped puppy is a prowling hound. Meanwhile, Matt’s lustful, comic-relief buddy Luke is consumed with the sex he’s not having. Alex is insanely Machiavellian. And even Lisa loses our respect early by initiating sex with Matt on their first date.
Hollywood has once again failed to realize the importance of having the audience relate to the people onscreen. These metropolitan twentysomethings are foolish, selfish and unethical. Instead of decent human beings crawling under our skin, we get chiggers (or the moral equivalent). And since we can’t empathize or identify with the principals, all that remains is trumped-up suspense, redundant action shown from multiple perspectives and a detached curiosity about what might happen next.