Gray Matters Review

It's difficult to work up much enthusiasm over a movie like Gray Matters, a romantic comedy that's neither. Writer/director Sue Kramer's debut feature sputters along with little ambition or originality. The cast full of familiar faces adhere closely to the personalities they've honed in films and television shows, most of which were better or at least more fun. Heather Graham is bubbly and big-eyed playing the title character Gray while Tom Cavanagh, from television's Ed and Love Monkey, is harmlessly lightweight as her brother Sam. The two single siblings are best friends, roommates, and sometimes mistaken for a couple. Completing the unorthodox love triangle is Bridget Moynahan, known for I, Robot and recently giving birth to Tom Brady's baby. She plays Charlie, the woman Sam decides to marry after their first night together and with whom Gray shares a drunken, life-altering kiss the night before the wedding.

The movie starts off pleasant enough, as the familiar "Heaven, I'm in heaven" from Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" plays over the opening credits while Graham and Cavanagh hoof through a ballroom dancing class. Unfortunately, this is the best scene in the film (if you don't count Moynahan in her underwear later on). It's the only time the repeated and halfhearted attempts to pay homage to classic Hollywood are even close to being fully realized. Cavanagh and Graham often speak with rapid-fire diction in a throwback to old screwball comedies, but it doesn't work and will probably seem to most viewers like the actors are needlessly speaking too fast. The idea of using such a style makes little sense in a film of minimal distinction and with otherwise undetectable reason to employ it. This isn't the Coen brothers film The Hudsucker Proxy, where Jennifer Jason Leigh gave a mostly dead-on imitation of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.

It's not just the fast-talking that feels unnatural. The characters repeatedly make reference to older movies in a way that seems highly forced, such as Graham commenting that she's looking for a mate who doesn't think Truffaut is a mushroom or the introduction to Moynahan's character where she claims to be a 1940s film buff. It all plays like the writer/director is a fan of these films and needlessly tried to impart her love to the characters, none of which seem like they'd know Betty Grable from Betty Crocker. (Misspelling "Rogers & Hammerstein" in a special thank you during the credits doesn't instill a lot of confidence regarding the filmmakers' knowledge either; I can just imagine Richard Rodgers' decomposed corpse shrugging off any association.)

That's not really the main problem with Gray Matters though. The bigger issue is that it's lacking any sense of focus or realism. The dancing siblings we see at the beginning are too soon split into Graham at the forefront and Cavanagh way way in the back wondering where his character's storyline went. Saying nothing of the lack of chemistry between Cavanagh (who actually does seem more suited to the easygoing scenes with Graham) and Moynahan or their ridiculously short courtship, the movie loses any steam it had when it starts focusing solely on the neurotic and intermittently selfish Gray. At this point, Gray Matters begins not to and the film becomes about a woman in her thirties struggling with the very first hints that she might be a lesbian. Supplanting Cavanagh and Moynahan for screen time are Alan Cumming as a Scottish cabbie with a crush on Gray and Sissy Spacek as her therapist who conducts their sessions in bowling alleys, batting cages, and while rock-climbing.

Still, Gray Matters isn't a movie worth actively disliking. It's more like a little three-legged puppy dog that you can't help but pat on the head because it doesn't realize it's missing that fourth leg. There's something undeniably lacking here (romance? comedy? dialogue that sounds like it was spoken by people instead of sitcom characters?). Anyone who's actually seen romantic comedies, either in film or television, will find the attempts at humour stiff and unconvincing. Even worse is the total lack of romance. Any sparks between Sam and Charlie fly when the audience isn't watching and even though Gray thinks she's in love with Charlie, it feels entirely one-sided and unconvincing. The only character whose affections seem close to sincere is Alan Cumming's cab driver, who's otherwise given nothing to do.

The mild upside is that the actors all give adequate performances they shouldn't be ashamed of and Graham is actually a little better than expected. Faint praise indeed, but this is an unmemorable film with a cast full of well-known faces and it just doesn't work as much of anything other than a fairly painless way to waste an hour and a half. If forced, I'd recommend it for fans of Heather Graham, Tom Cavanagh, Scrubs guest stars (which both actors, as well as Gray Matters supporting player Molly Shannon, have been), and women in their thirties who still struggle with sexual orientation.

The Disc

According to the Internet Movie Database, Gray Matters was shot on the Thomson VIPER FilmStream Camera, a high definition digital device notably used for the David Fincher film Zodiac and executive producer Michael Mann's television show Robbery Homicide Division. The R2 Momentum screener copy I watched presents the film in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a reasonably sharp anamorphic widescreen transfer, though colours seem to lack any vibrancy. A sickly brown tint was evident for much of the film, noticeable especially in darker scenes and daylight exteriors of the city. Perhaps due to it being shot on digital, blacks are not that strong and still have a hazy brown look. No additional image problems were detectable on the dual layer disc and the presentation is otherwise fair.

Audio is dialogue-heavy and presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Nothing particularly stands out in the mix, even the Graham-Moynahan-Gloria Gaynor performance of "I Will Survive" makes little use of stereo capabilities. The sound levels are even throughout, but, like the film, mired in dullness. Optional white English subtitles are also included.

A promotional featurette and a theatrical trailer are the only extras. The featurette is pretty much useless since it seems designed to entice viewers to watch the film, which anyone buying or renting this DVD will likely be doing already. It runs just under three and a half minutes and consists of the same clips and voice over from the trailer, with additional interview snippets from the three stars and writer/director Kramer. A trailer for The Hoax starring Richard Gere plays automatically when the DVD comes on, but isn't accessible from the menu.

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