Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen) has it all: wealth power good looks and a gorgeous fiancée Sam (Jessica Alba). Unfortunately he’s also got a weak heart and it’s only a matter of time before circumstances compel him to go under the knife. Although given anesthesia during the operation Clay is still able to feel pain and hear the doctors around him a situation made infinitely worse when he comes to realize that he is the victim of a nefarious conspiracy to bilk him of his fortune. He’s worth much more dead than alive but to whom? Clay’s (semi-)out-of-body experience allows him--and the film--to travel backwards in time as he tries to piece together clues to the conspiracy that now holds him in its power. The medical aspects of the story are dicey at best but the intent of this sort of film is to try and fool the audience with each plot twist. It’s essentially a whodunit in reverse. Awake’s got a great cast with everyone (except Christensen) occupying the role of red herring at one time or another--and clearly having a good time chewing up the scenery. Christensen’s the straight man here a role he fills with a relaxed charisma and a good amount of empathy. Alba looking absolutely dynamite is the sort of fiancée that any red-blooded male would risk a coronary for. If looks could kill Alba would knock ‘em dead--which just might be a hint or still another red herring. The surgical team includes such reliable stalwarts as Terrence Howard Fisher Stevens (also an executive producer of the film) and Christopher McDonald--many of whom have played heavies before all the better to try and fool the viewer. Lena Olin no slouch in the beauty department herself is cast to type as Clay’s over-protective mother. It’s a role she could play in her sleep but Olin’s far too resourceful an actress not to bring a little something extra to the party. Awake marks the feature debut of writer/director Joby Harold who overreaches from time to time with the twists but who’s always in there swinging. Awake may be far-fetched sometimes to the point of absurdity but it’s not a lazy film. Harold also has the added bonus of Oscar-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter on his team who brings a great visual sense to the film. The hospital scenes filmed at Bellevue are appropriately clammy and creepy--which really lend suspense to the proceedings as silly as they sometimes are. It’ll be interesting to see what Harold next has up his sleeve. Awake is very reminiscent of the B-movies of yesteryear preying on a common fear--in this case surgery--and attempting to milk it to maximum effect. It doesn’t add up to a whole lot but it’s not bad.
Picking up 10 years since 1997’s Henry Fool we see that struggling writer Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) has fled the country and is presumably dead leaving his estranged wife Fay Grim (Parker Posey) to fend for herself. She is now using her maiden name trying to live a normal life as a single mother. Fay’s poet laureate brother Simon (James Urbaniak) is in jail for aiding and abetting Henry while his publisher (Chuck Montgomery) is putting the moves on Fay. But then the CIA shows up on Fay’s doorstep with suspicions Henry may still alive and believe the clues to his whereabouts may be in his diaries. Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) sends Fay on a spy mission to obtain said diaries and things get further complicated as more quirky characters weave in and out of Fay's journey. It might be wise to rent Henry Fool before seeing Fay Grim just so you can remind yourself about these characters and have a better understanding. Everyone is being idiosyncratic on purpose but not in an unnatural way because the characters aren't too far off from the performers' distinct personalities. Posey is naturally off kilter overwhelmed by her surroundings whether as a character in a movie or an actor navigating red carpets and press junkets. As a woman left in the lurch by her husband and thrust into international espionage she’s perfect. Goldblum speaks with his usual frazzled authority. The other lesser known personalities fill their roles effectively as well. Urbaniak is just socially awkward enough you can see why he'd be the chump but smart enough to be ultimately helpful. Montgomery is an executive type who relishes his involvement in the intrigue. As Fay's son Liam Aiken plays the loner kid not quite Goth but a disaffected rebel nonetheless. Fay also encounters plenty of European spy types who bring a certain level of campiness to the espionage genre. You might feel left out if you haven't seen Henry Fool. They manage to fill in the Henry Fool backstory without a lot of exposition but there is definitely something missing. Then again so what if it might all be a little confusing? Figuring out the details is not important it’s the ride that counts. Being ultimately quirky himself indie director Hal Hartley manages to keep the pace moving throughout Fay Grim and all of the elements seem to tie in. The breezy dialogue is a treat. And for being an international adventure on a budget the film never feels cheap. Presenting chases and gunfights as a series of still shots may avoid actually staging elaborate action sequences but it's also more interesting to watch than the same old shoot 'em ups. Nobody is going to out-Woo John Woo so having this device is better. At two hours it does get a bit overwhelming to keep up but there are worse places to be stuck for 120 minutes.
The film begins with an unsatisfactory rendezvous between a prostitute (Vera Farmiga) and a brutish carpenter named Eddie (Domenick Lombardozzi) who is unable to perform. It then follows Eddie to the Manhattan apartment of Ellen (Jill Hennessy) a wealthy but neglected client who wants to sleep with him because she thinks her husband is cheating on her. Later that night Ellen tells her husband Robert (Malcolm Gets) "I want to sleep with other men." He answers "So do I." The story then switches its focus to Robert and the object of his desire an artist named Martin (Steve Buscemi). Martin rebukes Robert's advances at first but ultimately gives in. Then Martin becomes the pursuer when he makes advances on a beautiful art gallery receptionist Anna (Rosario Dawson) who eventually sleeps with him. She confesses the infidelity to her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) who then turns to an older woman Joey (Carol Kane) for comfort until she frightens him off with her desperation. Alone Joey finds herself giving comfort in the form of phone sex to a suicidal Wall Street embezzler named Will (Michael Imperioli). Will then ends the night with the prostitute from the opening scene.
A film like this must be a dream scenario for actors--an ensemble piece that allows each player to be the main character for a short amount of screen time. With the possible exception of the unfortunately miscast Steve Buscemi who seems overly awkward in his love scenes with both sexes the diverse ensemble of actors assembled here are clearly up to the challenge. The nine principals are meant to represent a mixed bag of races ages classes and disciplines ranging from stage to television to independent film and the anecdotal structure gives each of them a chance to shine. Some shine a little brighter than others however. Dawson Grenier Kane and Imperioli in particular stand out in their respective roles during the latter half of the film. This is not to say that the rest are lacking. It's just that there is only so much that can be done with the material which is sluggish at times and laden with heavy dialogue that can be difficult to deliver believably. As a whole the talented cast does the best they can with what they are given.
When writer/director Peter Mattei set out to depict the vapid and money-obsessed world of the 1990's he looked to Arthur Schnitzler's classic stage play Reigen for stylistic inspiration. The play follows one character after another in a series of overlapping vignettes in which each character seeks out some sort of sexual conquest. Mattei emulates that structure in Love in the Time of Money but never manages to escape the play's theatrical roots. The film relies heavily on dialogue with little intriguing visual imagery that couldn't be done on stage. Although the digital video format is well suited to the material Mattei fails to take full advantage of the rich New York background favoring nondescript streets anonymous alleyways and common restaurants that could exist in any city. Another limitation of the multiplot design is the inability to get more than a cursory glance at any one of the nine characters. There is scarcely enough time in each story to introduce them let alone fully explore what makes them tick before the film moves on to the next person. All that is presented are the broad strokes of their desires and actions without any depth or background to give them context. It's a noble experiment but one that ultimately fails to be compelling.