Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Animal Attraction



US 2001
director : Tony Goldwyn
script : Elizabeth Chandler (based on novel Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman)
cinematography : Anthony B Richmond
editing : Dana Congdon
music : Rolfe Kent
lead actors : Ashley Judd, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei
97 minutes

Do Hollywood studios share a secret list of non-titles for their romantic comedies? A list of bland, inoffensive phrases which can be randomly applied to whatever the production line spews out? What were Fox thinking when they called their new Ashley Judd-Hugh Jackman vehicle Someone Like You? Who did they think that would draw in, other than fans of the Van Morrison number he growls out over the closing credits, though they did have to find something more enticing than the source novels title, Animal Husbandry. Now they’ve taken the desperate route of renaming the picture for international release, though Animal Attraction is likely to end up confusing future video renters expecting to settle down with Rob Schneiders cheerfully juvenile The Animal, and ending up with this laborious bit of damp fluff.

Unlucky in love, thirtysomething Manhattanite TV researcher Jane (Judd) thinks she’s met Mr Right in the shape of nice-guy colleague Ray (Kinnear), only for him to pull back at the last moment and return to his ex. Comforted by best pal Liz (Tomei), a devastated Jane immerses herself in animal-behaviour theories specifically the mating habits of bulls and cows in an attempt to understand What Men Want. The results become a phenomenon after she starts a magazine column as Dr Marie Charles. But even cow-philosophy can’t help her when she starts warming to nasty-guy colleague Eddie (Jackman), an unreconstructed wham-bam-thank-you-maam type

Judds attempt to branch out from her Double Jeopardy thriller base doesn’t work, but its through no fault of her own. Shes as appealing as the clunky material allows, refreshingly unglamorous (and eerily Toni Collette-ish) when Jane slumps, but soon pulling herself together with the gutsy pep familiar from her usual kickass roles. There is one embarrassing moment when she freaks out in a psychiatrists office, but as this is probably a fantasy sequence (its so badly edited its impossible to tell) she can be given the benefit of the doubt.

While Kinnear (tiresome) and Tomei (slumming) seem stuck in their respective ruts of deceptive nice guy and sassy friend, Jackman again proves his versatility, handling the broad/light comedy with the same assurance he brought to different genres in Swordfish and X-Men. The movie typically misses a trick by having Eddie be American rather than a funnily boorish Pat-Cash-type Antipodean. Jackman and Judd make a fine physical match, though of course neither is ever seen maintaining their muscles via exercise or sport, and Judds diet seems to consist of ice-cream, chocolate biscuits and full-fat milk another lame nod to that tiresome cow-gimmick?

But generous suspension of disbelief goes with the territory, and can even add to the fun watch out for the party pianist who makes no noise while playing, then miraculously disappears when the camera-angle changes providing, of course, there’s a sufficiently light and/or sure touch at the wheel. Not much chance of that here: as so often happens, cramming a novels quirky sprawl into the tight confines of a movies running-time produces awkward results.

Animal Attraction is allegedly 97 minutes including credits, but the pacing breaks down so badly, especially late on, that it feels at least half an hour longer. Despite the over-complicated script, offputting gaps and disconnections remain – unseen characters include Lizs friend Julian, and the promisingly exotic-sounding author J J Salamanca, while Eddies ex Rebecca pops up for about two seconds in an oddly redundant yoga-gym scene. More seriously, while everything to do with Dr Charles strains plausibility, the whole subplot rapidly becomes distractingly idiotic.

Its a shame, because, this isn’t really such a bad picture. Top cinematographer Richmond makes the most of the meat-packing-district locales, including the legendary real-life Hogs and Heifers bar – handily located a few floors down from Jackmans dazzling loft apartment – putting the phoney shenanigans of Coyote Ugly firmly in their place. Theres no faulting the leads, and Ellen Barkin is good value as their vampish boss. Whats going on? she mouths, baffled by the the absurd climax in which Jane reveals the truth about Marie Charles on live TV and Animal Attractions audience will, by this stage, know exactly how she feels.

For for the original short review please click here

July 10th, 2001
(seen 10-Jul-01, UCI, MetroCentre, Gateshead)

by Neil Young