Script Review: UNFAITHFUL
Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower
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Someone at Fox had high hopes for the remake of writer-director Claude Chabrols LA FEMME INFIDÈLE (THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE). They seem to have spent four million dollars alone having the script written and rewritten. They hired two-time Academy Award-winning writer Alvin Sargent (ORDINARY PEOPLE) to write the first draft. Got Oscar nominee William Broyles Jr. (CAST AWAY) to rewrite the script. Had Stephen Schiff (DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, Adrian Lynes version of LOLITA) rewrite Broyles. And paid Oscar nominee Susannah Grant (ERIN BROCKOVICH, 28 DAYS) to put the final spit and polish on it all.
Thats a lot of talent for something that misses its mark. And a lot of money to spend when the cast you settle on is Richard Gere and Diane Lane.
I saw the original movie a long time ago. I was lucky enough to have a movie-loving uncle that exposed me to all kinds of cool stuff. Including French films like this and DIABOLIQUE. And Truffaut and Godard. And masters like Bergman. And stateside dwellers such as Hitchcock. LA FEMME INFIDÈLE came out in the late 60s and is no longer available on video. So I havent seen it since that time, at seven years old, when my uncle and I wandered in out of the rain and sat in a near-full theater playing a revival (something that is very rare nowadays).
I remember liking the film very much. And I have a vague remembrance of the plot: a married woman has an affair; her husband hires a private detective and finds out; cuckold husband kills the lover; the wife discovers the crime and it...brings them together. His dangerous, wild act ignites a new respect and lust for her husband. The cops become involved, and though the wife can give him up, she doesnt.
You know what? Thats a great story. Sitting here right now, off the top of my head, I can think of the endless possibilities such a story affords. Youve seen the married woman cheating in many movies. Youve seen a jealous husband kill a wifes lover in many movies. But have you ever seen this act bring a distant couple together? I dont think so. The notion that a murder could revitalize and unite a detached couple is scalpel-sharp and piquant -- begging for its consequences to be exposed. Its the type of inspiration that breeds noir-thriller classics (which LA FEMME INFIDÈLE arguably is).
The remake misses the point and the intrigue of the original movie. It maddeningly erases the two things that made the film distinct and exciting. This version is more like DIAL M FOR MURDER meets DIABOLIQUE meets BLOOD SIMPLE meets NINE AND A HALF WEEKS meets JAGGED EDGE.
Thats a lot of "meets." The writers have taken an original story and made it hackneyed.
In this version we find Ed and Connie Sumner. They lead a peaceful, privileged life in the suburbs of New York. Their kid, Charlie, is adorable. Their bank account full. Their existence flowing with the greasy ease and ennui of routine that comes with all movies about rich married couples.
Then one day it all changes. On what must be the windiness day ever in New York City, Connie is blown off her feet and slams into Paul, a young stud who collects old books. (For the record, I live in New York, Ive seen it quite windy in the valleys of Manhattan, but Ive never seen anyone leave their feet.) Connies knee is cut and blood drips down her leg. Paul just happens to live right there and offers for her to come up and wash off. Shes reluctant at first -- he could be anyone -- but something inside her compels her forward. Before you can say "divorce lawyer" Connie cant get the hot young thing (who is one of those handsome, rich, smart, smooth-as-silk heartthrobs you find in movies like this) out of her mind and travels back to the city on a flimsy excuse. Connie and Paul stalk the idea of their union for a bit, each feinting and drawing back, until they finally make blissful movie love. (The fact that what Connie has done could ruin her life is all but silenced; the writers are much more interested in her sexual frenzy; her concern doesnt touch on what shes doing, really, but when she can get her next fix of sumptuous Paul.)
And so starts Connies spiral. She starts to lie to Ed about where she is during the day. The paranoid delirium of a cheater whips itself up and into her life. She throws herself into the magical touch of Paul so hard she forgets things like -- doh! -- picking up her kid from school.
Ed is smarter than his dopey, everyman persona would suggest and he suspects his wife right away. He goes to a private detective when an employee hes firing (who happened to see Paul and Connie smooching in a diner) implies something is amiss in the Sumner household.
The detective confirms Eds fear: Connie is bumping uglies with another. (I like in this scene that hes hurt they go to the movies together.)
Ed confronts Paul. Nice and calmly. They chitchat. And Ed ends up killing him (with a gift he gave Connie that she gave to Paul). He does a nice, quick movie corpse-cleanup -- with all the false scares that entails -- and goes back to his life.
The cops start sniffing around because they know Connie was frolicking with the man who is now missing (and soon found dead). In a cheap move Connie gets the dirt on Ed and figures it out: he went there and killed him. Shes disgusted and horrified -- but stays mum. Shes in this, too. They go on with their lives, because there is no other choice. And though they hate one another and themselves, they form a small, practical understanding over the incident.
What Ive described above sounds similar to the original. But its not. By a long shot. Heres why --
First of all, the writers make a huge mistake by having Ed as this super-nice, super-dependable, super-super husband. Hes a great dad, a great husband, a great provider. He owns and operates his own company. And when Connie wants to make love hes right there and willing. Hes like Dream Husband Ken or something. In the original movie the husband was cold and unaffectionate. You could understand why the wife went with her lover: she simply needed to be touched and feel like a woman again. The writers here treat Connie as some sort of cant-get-enough whore. Running to Paul like shes addicted to him. Giving no reason other than lust for Connies straying makes us dislike her. We see poor Ed at home, taking care of the kid and being considerate, and then view Connie nailing her boyfriend in back alleys -- and what can we think of her? That its just a "slight slipup"? A "wrong choice"? Nope. Its a total disregard for her kid, her husband and the life she leads.
Whats worse is that the romance dominates the script. Ed doesnt knock off Paul till the third act. This script is nearly eighty pages of Connie and Paul knocking boots. Bumping bellies. Doing the horizontal waltz. Its a thriller that has been turned into a womans fantasy.
Ed finally does get around to killing Paul. And theres all the perfunctory "frights" (look out, man, the broken elevator is about to crush the cadavers feet; look out, man, the trunk you just hid the body in is smashed by another car and wont close now) and the cleanup-of-a-crime-scene youve seen a million times before. At this point, though, were in the last stretch of the movie. Probably the final half-hour of the flick. This is supposed to be the incident that drives the movie on. The centerpiece, if you will. Here it feels rather "added on" -- like it doesnt belong.
It doesnt make any sense why Ed would take the body from the apartment and stuff him in his car and bury him. Its just another cheesy, thoughtless move by the writers to compel the last act. Why in the world would Ed take this risk? Isnt it better for this guy to be found dead in his apartment rather than a garbage dump right near the Sumners home? No one saw Ed go in or out of Pauls apartment. And even if they did -- would they remember him or his license plate? As it is now, Ed sees a cop on his way out, is caught handling the body by a passerby, makes a show of not opening his trunk when its hit by another car. The writers make Ed take this needless risk for no other reason than to push the movie to its unsophisticated ending.
In a horribly contrived way Connie -- who is, at this time, telling lame lies to the cops and her husband -- finds out the dirt of her husband. So hes a murderer! DUM-DUM-DUMMM! Instead of being amazed, as in the original, that he could do something like this -- that he has such will inside of him -- she flips out and attacks him as being a "horrible person." How could he have killed such a sweet creature as Paul? Orgasms dont come in the mail, you know, she might as well have yelled. This woman is excoriating her husband for killing the man she was so freely cheating with. Talk about nerve. Obviously what he did is wrong, but wheres his anger and bile? Wheres his speech that he thought about them having sex and, though he didnt go over there to kill the man, once he was in the "den of debauchery" he felt the vicious urge to murder.
Connie doesnt run to the police because they think she did it. And to reveal Eds involvement would reveal her own.
The writers paint the absurd picture that Ed is the bad person among the two. She screams and shouts at him. How could you do this? she pules. How could he do this? He did it because he found out his wife was gleefully cavorting with some stud-boy while he played the fool at home. Theres an obvious and pitiful attempt at letting Connie off the hook by making her cut off the affair right after Ed does away with Paul. Their reactions are just what youd expect: hes revolted by what hes capable of; shes also revolted by what hes capable of and missing her power-tool. Without the anomalous destination the story originally took, whats the point of the whole thing, anyway? Its just like every other jealous-husband movie. Only strangely muted. The third act of the script (which should have happened a full act earlier) feels tacked on. Like the makers wanted to make a movie about the joys of sex but didnt think it would sell and slapped all this "thriller" business to appease the public.
What we have here is the story of a woman who cheats on her hubby. That hubby finds out and kills her lover. Thats it, my friends. No suspense, no insight, no electric charge. Ed is so distanced from the script we dont even see a steady escalation of rage. His meeting with Paul, which comes from the first film, is a pleasant chat. The murder is spontaneous, not premeditated. Theres no Hitchcockian oomph here. No revelatory payload. No twists or turns or deviation. Its a mystery-thriller so mechanical it treats its "thrills" like they are an annoyance it has to keep around for someone elses benefit.
Whose idea was it to enlarge the cheating-relationship to ridiculous proportions: Lynes or Grants? From the looks of things Grant did a lot of work on this script, and I have to give her props: shes great at writing the cheating-spouse story. Shes able to create plenty of funny and romantic mazes for Paul and Connie to feel their way through. Their back-alley bang-fest, which takes place while Connies friends are inside a cafe, is pure movie-lovin fun. It only goes astray once, in a Lyne-inspired movie-theater romp. (Paul is one of those only-in-the-cinema love-toys who has a great bod, master skills in the bedroom, never seems to work, has a lot of money and a nice apartment, can speak French and quote famous authors, and clearly took Wooing 101 in college.)
But so what? The sex scenes are great. The characters have a real spark. I repeat: this is supposed to be a movie about a jealous husband killing his wifes lover. It doesnt have to be that, but if youre going to include this plot line for your second act you better give it more attention.
Adrian Lyne is like Bill Clinton in a way: his obsession with sex gets him into trouble. In Lynes case its that he discards good scripts for things like this. Just to be able to show outrageous sex scenes on film. Thats a waste of his talents. His JACOBS LADDER ranks second only to THE EXORCIST in its creepiness. I can never understand this mans decisions. I was horrified when I heard he was going to shoot Joe Eszterhas awful ONE-NIGHT STAND. Luckily for us King Pretentious Mike Figgis took on the script and rewrote it into oblivion. Eszterhas script was nothing but two people having sex -- hey, just like this script! Maybe that explains it all. Lyne was so desperate to make that version of ONE-NIGHT STAND he turned this into it. UNFAITHFUL has the air of a noirish retelling, but its really just more of Lynes oversexed NINE AND A HALF WEEKS.
Despite my joke earlier about the cast, Diane Lane (MY DOG SKIP, MURDER AT 1600) is perfect for her role. I saw her in my head while reading the part. Richard Gere, on the other hand, is too quietly self-absorbed to be Ed. Bruce Willis, who was going to star, would have been a much better choice. And as it is, in this script, Ed is a big fat zero. Paul has a bigger and better role than him.
What I get from this script is that Susannah Grant should write a movie about a woman cheating on her husband and what it does to her life at home. Clearly shes excellent at it. I havent read sex scenes and playful banter scenes this adept in a while. While the couples meet-cute was horrendous hogwash, their longwinded lust-union was engaging.
I guess LA FEMME INFIDÈLE was never supposed to be an empty, no-seriousness sex romp.
(I can get my hands on the first draft by Sargent. Maybe Ill read it and tell you guys where this thing started out before Broyles, Schiff and Grant stuck their fingers in the pie.)
Who knows. Maybe Lyne couldnt decide if he wanted to remake the movie this is based on, NINE AND A HALF WEEKS or PLAY MISTY FOR ME (a.k.a. the original FATAL ATTRACTION). His indecision has led to a script that is two-headed and misguided. The dual stories pulling apart and clashing, blighting one another and the whole garden.
-- Darwin Mayflower.
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