Monogamy Review

Monogamy, the debut fiction feature from Murderball co-director Dana Adam Shapiro, is an intriguing and provocative film with a penchant for changing moods. It's the sort of picture that stays with you, for its truths, its darkness and its flaws. The narrative seems to begin as one thing, containing a portal to a fling with voyeurism, but evolves into something significantly darker and more troubling. It ultimately does show some compromise by employing a safety net of sorts at the very end, presumably to avoid acting as any more of a downer than it had already dared to be. The rest of the picture harbors few illusions and hardly any hope about the idea of two people remaining satisfied and happy together for the long term.

Shapiro, who also co-wrote the screenplay, believably recreates Brooklyn as a hip haven of young adults whose dress and drink are both casual. Theo (played by Chris Messina) is a photographer scheduled to be married to Nat (Rashida Jones) in about three months. Their dynamic seems to become progressively worse, either via the reveals or the realities of their relationship, as the movie unfolds. They begin as a couple who appear to be comfortable with one another and content to simply be together. They stay in, she cooks. When Nat accidentally cuts herself with a knife it seems innocent but proves to have bigger repercussions later in the film. The one potential warning sign early on is her insistence on taking a shower just prior to having sex, effectively killing the mood. This is later followed by another instance of something preventing the two from becoming intimate. These things that might not appear to be important at the time later become sources of acrimony. Whether this is deserved is another thing entirely, and the film prefers to build some of these stress points up for Theo without really confirming or justifying his feelings.

Adding greatly to Theo's paranoia, and serving the film particularly well, is his chosen profession. Theo's main source of work is to photograph couples prior to their weddings. These sessions tend to offer quiet insights into the demeanor of someone who's soon to be married. The implications and how they apply to Theo are rather obvious. Even more interesting is a side project he's been doing during the last year called Gumshoot, in which clients communicate their desire to be photographed without knowing where he's going to be or even what he looks like. The idea is apparently to convey a natural and realistic impression of people during their everyday lives. It's a phenomenal concept, brimming with potential in the context of the film. The Gumshoot thing leads Theo to a pretty blonde who has identified herself only as "Subgirl" (Meital Dohan) and puts down her location as near some tennis courts. She turns up wearing a white tennis outfit but instead of playing on the court she sits down on a bench and plays with herself.

This, understandably, catches Theo off guard and it really becomes the point on which Monogamy pivots. He develops a near obsession for this image of "Subgirl" which coincides with both the doubt encroaching about his forthcoming marriage and Nat going to the hospital with a staph infection related to that cut on her hand. The cocktail is a lethal one. The film, for better or worse, explores new territory and Theo seems on the brink of losing himself as he gets deeper into the "Subgirl" mystery he's concocted inside his own head. Messina's performance here, especially when contrasted with the easygoing alternative presented earlier in the movie, is somewhat unconvincing, or at least difficult to rationalize considering how radical the shift seems to be. Quiet psychological thriller elements are also introduced during sequences that mark a much different tone in Shapiro's film. The impetus, or the aggregate collection of events, for all of this is believable even if some of the behavior isn't necessarily as realistic, at least given the little amount of information we know about Theo and Nat.

Such a limited base of knowledge about the couple is perhaps part of the point, though, and it does make the pair potentially more analogous to the viewer's own situation. As a cautionary tale, then, the film takes on a different function. It's frightening. The little fights and often meaningless arguments that lead up to the realization of committing to supposedly spending the rest of one's life with a designated significant other are not so silent killers that Monogamy focuses in on to great effect. That underlying caption, more than the "Subgirl" strand that propels much of the uncertainty at play, is where the film succeeds strongest. Its title is a giveaway as to where the intentions really are. There's some psychological thriller here, maybe a bit of Polanski, but the theoretical struggle of staying together forever is where this movie's deepest interests lie.


The Disc

Oscilloscope Laboratories' release of Monogamy is region-free and in the NTSC standard. The dual-layered disc is housed in the label's signature packaging made up entirely of cardboard. A sturdy slipcover holds the folded four-tiered card, which includes room for the disc to slide vertically into its designated slot.

The progressive transfer makes for a beautiful viewing experience of the film, which was shot digitally using the RED camera. Natural light dominates and gives off a strong feel of realism. Colors appear true. The many darker scenes, particularly interiors, exhibit some nice texture without losing significant detail. This is a very strong, unmanipulated image. The film's 1.85:1 aspect ratio is respected, and it has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

A pair of English language audio tracks are offered. First is a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that sounds pleasingly clear while spreading the various little sound effects included in the audio across the multiple channels. Dialogue here is never a struggle to understand and the songs register well. Also included is a two-channel stereo option that is similarly effective, though obviously somewhat less full to the ear. There are few, if any, major advantages of one over the other, though viewers with systems capable of utilizing the surround mix will surely opt for that choice with little hesitation. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are offered. They are white in color.

Extra features are hardly comprehensive but it's nonetheless a thoughtful gesture to include the collection of supplements we do have. A music video (3:27) for "You Don't Know (Nat's Song)" as sung by Rashida Jones with Bummer and Lazarus consists of footage from the film, primarily of her performances of the song. Next on the agenda are three deleted scenes. "Scene 9 - 'What do you call...?'" (0:54) is some verbal wordplay from when Nat is cooking in their apartment. "Scene 23 - 'Brooklyn Bridge'" (1:13) shows the open mic tap dancer (with B.o.B.) crosscut with Theo riding his bike across the bridge. "Scene 57 - 'Invitations'" (1:11) concerns the couple's wedding invitations in a bluntly downbeat moment.

A series of outtakes is made up of three such loosely categorized collections of unused or botched scenes. The first is called "Dog Licks, Ants, and Soft Sticks" (4:28) while the next is "The Crew" (1:52), scored to Elbow's song "Puncture Repair" and containing a comparison between a Steadicam shot used in the film and a test run involving crew members. Lastly, "Bum Rush" (0:33) highlights the final shot of production.

The screenplay for the film is available on the disc and can be copied to your computer as a PDF file.

Additionally, a trailer (2:10) for Monogamy, as well as previews of other Oscilloscope releases like Wendy and Lucy, The Messenger, The Exploding Girl, Howl and Meek's Cutoff, has been included.

And finally, the inner portion of the case contains two brief pieces of writing. One is by the director of the film Dana Adam Shapiro and excerpted from a forthcoming book of his containing a collection of anonymous interviews that served as partial inspiration for Monogamy. The other is by critic Amy Taubin and compares the film favorably to Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape.


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