Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis ("Crash") raises navel-gazing to an art form with "Third Person," a "Crash"-y, borderline trashy entry in the genre of global interlocking stories.
Meanwhile, in Rome, sarcastic small-time businessman Scott (Adrien Brody) plays the part of ugly American, seeking comfort food at the "Cafe Americano." There he befriends -- or becomes the mark for -- a beautiful Roma woman named Monika (Moran Atias), who eventually spills that she's desperate for cash to ransom her 8-year-old daughter from traffickers. In the New York story, former soap actress Julia (Mila Kunis) nears the end of her rope as she takes her last shot at resolving a child custody case hinging on an allegation of child abuse. The father of her 6-year-old child, ex-husband and aspiring artist Rick (James Franco) won't give an inch to Julia or her sympathetic lawyer Theresa (Maria Bello).
Did I mention that Scott and Michael also have (or had?) young children? The stories all rhyme in circumstances and themes, in ways that will drive some viewers up the wall. To a one, these are damaged people tying to overcome their own deep-seated flaws and break down the defenses of those they want to love. At times, Haggis's stylistic choices feel cliched, from the faux-Philip Glass of the opening montage to the slo-mo and Euro-accordion that introduce Monika. But it's also possible it's all part of Haggis's game in a film that immediately begs the question "All right, what is he playing at?"
The puzzle-piece structure eventually makes a picture, or at least reveals the gimmick. Figuratively and literally, "Third Person" is as much about the writer's process as anything else (Haggis self-deprecatingly winks at the audience when Michael's agent opines "Now you have random characters making various excuses for your life"). But the tasteful austerity of style and solid performances can't overcome a script that stands between emotional humanity and the viewer. The sense of intellectual remove can be conceptually interesting, but it makes for a very long, often frustrating journey to a destination not a fraction as appealing as New York, Paris or Rome.
Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity. Two hours, 17 minutes.
This story contains 483 words.
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