Synopsis: Monogamy, from Academy Award-nominated director Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball), is a timely tale of fantasy and fear of commitment in a relationship on the brink.
Wedding photographer Theo (Chris Messina) and his budding musician fiancée Nat (Rashida Jones) are a young couple living a comfortable life in Brooklyn. Thoroughly bored with his day job and increasingly anxious about his upcoming wedding, Theo embarks upon a risky and adventurous side project: he’s hired by clients to clandestinely snap voyeuristic photos as they go about their days. Things go smoothly until a sexy new customer’s (Meital Dohan) very public exhibitionism sparks an obsession in Theo. As he captures her day and night, the woman’s mysterious trysts and illicit behavior send him reeling, him to confront uncomfortable truths about his sex life and his relationship at home.
eyelights: Rashida Jones. its observations on traditional relationship models.
eyesores: its conclusions. its narrow perspective. its third act.
“What are you looking for?”
I’m 100% monogamous: Once I’m with a partner, I’m incapable of straying, even if my eye wanders (I’m not blind, after all). In fact, when I’m single, I tend to focus on one person of interest, even if there are more than one option. Call it focus. Call it devotion. Call it stupid. It’s just the way I am.
But I understand that not everyone is that way, and I recognize that monogamy may not be part of our genetic programming. So I completely understand why some couples have open relationships – though I struggle with polyamory in the sense of actually having feelings of love for more than one person.
My heart really is exclusive. I know nothing else.
In ‘Monogamy’, Theo and Nat are discovering that their impending nuptials is feeling more like a trap than the romantic event they’d been taught to expect. Though they’ve been together forever and love each other, they are both ambivalent about the ceremony itself and all the prep work that goes into it.
This is exacerbated by the artificiality involved in the wedding pictures that Theo takes for his clients: seeing all the staging involved in fabricating the “perfect moment”, it loses all meaning. So he starts a side gig called Gumshoot, which involves photographing clients from a distance, secretly.
Like an undercover investigator.
One day he’s hired by a client called Subgirl, and she takes advantage of the situation to titillate him, by discreetly masturbating on a park bench while he’s taking his pictures. From that point on, Theo becomes obsessed with his client, who hires him for more sessions, and his relationship suffers.
‘Monogamy’ is a highly cynical motion picture. Though it has valid reasons to bring monogamy into question, it does so from the perspective of stereotypical gender roles. Clichés, really. Theo appears to be the breadwinner, while Nat does the cooking. And his two buddies both have clichéd views of marriage.
It then proposes that the main reason that Theo’s eye strays is because his sex life with Nat is nearly non-existent – every time that he’s in the mood, she finds ways to spoil it. What it’s saying is that if Theo had been satisfied sexually, then he wouldn’t be having any doubts about the relationship.
Guys are walking penises, after all.
In truth, Nat also has a wandering eye, but it’s not the crux of the picture and it isn’t explored. What are the reasons why she’s no longer attracted to him or doesn’t want to have sex? Is it incidental, albeit frequent? Or is there more to it? We will never know, as we only get Theo’s perspective on it.
They never discuss the situation together. They clearly have deeper problems, though they’re not at all dysfunctional. But they need to sit down and discuss a few things and work it out – and they’re not doing that. In fact, Theo doesn’t even open up to his buddies, though Will offers him advice.
So much of ‘Monogamy’ isn’t really exploring the limitations of monogamy itself, it’s more about watching Theo’s obsession taking over his life, culminating with him ditching Nat the night of her show and then ignoring her while she has a two-day stay at the hospital. He essentially loses his mind.
In fact, he becomes so incoherent/disjointed at the end that I couldn’t help but wonder if he was too drunk or stoned to make sense. Though I disliked that Theo was an @$$hole with Nat, as she didn’t deserve his mistreatment, this is when the picture lost me; Theo was becoming incomprehensible.
On top of being reprehensible.
Chris Messina’s performance couldn’t convince me, either. Theo was such a rambling mess that I started to wonder if the scenes were improvised… poorly. Thankfully Rashida Jones shone as Nat; though I must admit a bias due to her loveliness, she was natural and subtle in her delivery. She stole the show.
But it’s not enough to salvage ‘Monogamy’, which doesn’t explore its subject matter in any deep fashion, doing it from such a narrow perspective that it neuters its premise. It doesn’t so much raise questions as make statements – and from such an ignorant point of view that its opinion doesn’t matter.
I felt like I was watching some disgruntled “average” dude’s frustrations put to film. But there’s no insight, no exploration of causes, effects and potential alternatives. Instead, ‘Monogamy’ suggests that this is just the reality and we’re to accept it as is. And, frankly, that doesn’t sit well with me at all.
Monogamous though I may be.
Date of viewing: March 7, 2017