Even men who can’t wait to marry their girlfriends might doubt that whole “’til death do you part” business.
The would-be groom in “Monogamy” (out June 14) has more than a few reservations. He’s a photographer whose latest gig has him snapping racy pictures of an exhibitionist. Suddenly, the thought of having the same partner for the rest of his life feels unnatural, even wrong.
It’s a probing way to examine an age-old issue, but “Monogamy” fails to give us a couple worth saving.
Theo (Chris Messina) and Nat (Rashida Jones) are about to get married, and the biggest obstacle standing between them and the altar is mailing the wedding invitations.
They’re past the “madly in love” stage but move around their cramped New York apartment with a practiced, and caring sense of each other’s space. Something changes the moment Theo, a freelance photographer, takes on a new client. Part of his work involves photographing people surreptitiously in order to capture them in their natural state.
His latest assignment has him shooting a woman who pleasures herself in public.
Theo is transfixed by the images captured on his camera. He ends up photographing her several more times, with each outing getting more adventurous than the last. The visuals do more than arouse Theo. They make him look at Nat differently. Now, when Nat isn’t in the mood for lovemaking he takes it as a sign that their married life could be filled with countless unfulfilled nights.
Meanwhile, Theo’s pals are more than eager to share their sob stories about married life.
“Monogamy” sounds like a cookie-cutter tale of a man who wants a wife but doesn’t want to give up playing the field. But it’s far more nuanced, and observational, than that. Director Dana Adam Shapiro (“Murderball”), who co-wrote the screenplay, coaxes some beautifully understated moments from his first narrative feature. Watch Messina flinch as an awkward embrace with Nat turns into another night without intimacy. Or, better yet, see Theo’s face fall as he plays referee to a future bride and groom squawking over wedding photos.
The devolution of Theo and Nat’s relationship hits a few false notes early on, but the gravity of the situation keeps you engaged. By the time Theo’s work becomes an obsession you won’t believe they were even a couple, let alone one planning the biggest day of their lives.
The film’s pacing, already casual in the early scenes, slows as Theo’s demons awaken. And a pivotal scene that could make or break their relationship plays out with nary an emotional firework. It’s as if they broke up months ago and were casually sorting out which CD belonged to whom.
In short, it’s hard to invest in a couple that appears so disinterested in being man and wife.
“Monogamy” shows Shapiro belongs in the fictional arena, but his detached vantage point renders the couple at the heart of the story too remote to matter.
(Photo: Chris Messina and Rashida Jones play a couple going through a challenging time in the weeks before their marriage in “Monogamy.” Oscilloscope Productions.)