Massy Tadjedin’s cosmopolitan anti-romance, Last Night, attempts to explain what drives perfectly happy couples to cheat, and the answer it delivers is women are irrational and men are gullible and horny. I’d hoped that a film like this might venture a little deeper into the enigma that is cheating, and it certainly tries to; the problem is that it can’t manage to do more than skim the surface.
Joanna and Michael Reed (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington) are ridiculously happy. We know this because they act all cute and in love as they head to a party somewhere in Manhattan. This perfect picture comes crashing down the second Joanna sees Michael’s coworker, the very sexy Laura (Eva Mendes). Suddenly, the secure happy New York woman fades away and a petulant child replaces her. She flips out on her doting husband the night before he leaves to go on a business trip with said hot coworker. Now, this is natural for any woman to be threatened by her significant others’ attractive coworker. It is not, however, natural for a woman to act like a child who’s just caught her playmate eying her favorite toy. Joanna is rash, explosive, and immature for no discernible reason.
The Reeds are set up to be this impossibly happy pair, yet with one tiny prompt, Joanna’s whole manner disintegrates into a temper tantrum and she sends her husband off to his decidedly less disagreeable — and eventually very sexually charged and determined — coworker and the rest of our time is spent wondering will he or won’t he cheat? Usually, Worthington is to blame for his characters’ lack of depth, but I don’t believe the actor is to blame here. Michael simply receives his wife’s verbal abuse and then spends his business trip being pushed and pulled by Laura and her wiles. His character is empty and can’t manage to control his own decisions. He and the shrewish Joanna are a couple that it’s hard to care about.
Add to all of this that Joanna conveniently finds her own little temptation in her lost French love, Alex (Guillaume Canet). The pair happen upon each other and have their own possibly adulterous encounter as Michael and Laura contemplate some late night activity as well. Throughout this entire interaction, Joanna still comes across as unlikable. She seems to have played her options when she chose Michael and we find Alex in extreme pain over losing her. While I don’t understand Joanna’s hold on Alex, the Frenchman is the only sympathetic character in the whole film (unless you count the adorable golden retriever that weaves its way into the story). Canet delivers a solid performance while Knightley attempts to give depth to her brat of a character, but to no avail.
The film tries desperately to peel back the curtain on what it means to cheat and it tries to ask the question, is cheating always wrong? Should it always mean the end of a relationship? Instead, we find empty, unlikable people exploring these questions and coming up with no answers.