Conversations with Other Women

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The screen is split, and so is the verdict, on Conversations with Other Women, a banter-heavy encounter between two unnamed characters. Taking place during and after a wedding reception, our lady and gent, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart, occupy separate frames of the screen for most of the movie. When they come together, the other side of the split screen is mostly occupied by flashes of the past, or flashes of what they wish was happening now. It's like watching the first and second half of When Harry Met Sally concurrently — only without all the funny parts.

Bonham Carter is a bridesmaid, but not a very good one. Called in at the last minute to fill out the wedding party ranks, she wears the pink strapless uniform of a bridesmaid, but can't remember the groom's name and is not particularly fond of the bride.

Ever handsome and charming, Eckhart brings her a glass of champagne, but he's more than just a dashing stranger. As the night goes on, it becomes clear that these two have history, as revealed by younger actors (Erik Eidem and Nora Zehetner) who re-enact their first meetings as twentysomethings on the other side of the screen. Zehetner makes an eerily perfect stand-in for a younger Bonham Carter, with the same perfectly tousled hair, quizzical gaze and alabaster complexion, but Eidem would work better doubling as a blond Keanu Reeves than a charismatic actor like Eckhart.

Director Hans Canosa milks the split-screen device for all he can. On a metaphorical level, it works to show the schism between the two actors, and it keeps the viewer wondering if the duo can ever breach the gap between them. But screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin lingers too much on how much time has passed since the couple's last meeting, and Bonham Carter makes 38 feel like 95. She looks worn and weary, lamenting that she's too old for things like dancing. She says that part of her life is over, and that 23-year-old woman Eckhart's character once knew was someone else. Geez, pass her a shovel and get her digging that grave now.

Still, Zevin and director Canosa have their clever moments by using the divide to allow us peer into what this couple remembers and what they're longing for. When Bonham Carter steals away to the hotel bathroom for a post-coital smoke, on the other side of the screen we see what she wishes had transpired: the couple exchanging a quick goodbye before going their own ways, and her spending the rest of the night scarfing down something from room service.

But even with its inventive moments, the dual action eventually starts to drag. The viewer is holed up in the hotel with these two for most of the movie, yet the moments where they exchange any meaningful looks are few and far between, and there's little direct interaction between the two main characters.

The split-screen is a thoughtful and creative tool, but — like so many ill-fated lovers — what was once intriguing eventually winds up just plain annoying.

 

Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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