The Laws of Attraction (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

All this back-and-forth is tedious, in part because it means that Audrey and Daniel spend a lot of time together.

The Laws of Attraction

Director: Peter Howitt
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, Michael Sheen, Nora Dunn, Frances Fisher
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: New Line Cinema
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2004-08-24
Isn't fog the most incredible natural phenomenon?
-- Daniel (Pierce Brosnan), Laws of Attraction

You want him dead?
-- Sara (Frances Fischer), Laws of Attraction

Audrey (Julianne Moore) is a smart, successful divorce attorney, employed by a swank firm and respected by her peers. But you wouldn't know this during the first moments of Laws of Attraction, newly released to DVD. She's introduced in mid-chastisement by her socialite mother, Sara (Frances Fischer). Really, mom natters, Audrey needs to "make more effort" regarding men. "My skin," beams the multiply partnered Sara, "is always better when I'm dating."

Right. It's soon clear that 35-year-old professional Audrey does not need to be living with her mom or even listening to this admonishment, and yet, there she is, a basket case. (Their peculiar interdependence is underlined by the fact that this "conversation" takes place as Sara aids in Audrey's illicit recon of a client's about-to-be-ex-husband's estate, pretending to be interested in buying the Emperor of Infomercials' townhouse when really all they need to do is inventory the artwork.) If you need further convincing, consider Exhibit B: when Audrey is flustered by a court procedure, she rushes to the bathroom, where she hides in a stall to wolf down a Hostess Sno Ball.

While it's possible to read Audrey as struggling with the dilemmas that face so many professional women who read Cosmo, it's also easy to see her as a victim of script by committee (Aline Brosh McKenna, Karey Kirkpatrick, and Robert Harling). Moore retains her signature radiance here, and shows off her game comic timing (see also, if you must, Evolution), but she's severely hampered by a screenplay that can't seem to imagine a brainy woman not in need of emotional rescue. And so, here comes Audrey's savior, fellow divorce attorney Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan), introduced as he's snoring in his courtroom chair. Indeed, he's representing the infomercials guy, and his comportment at this moment unnerves Audrey, though she assures her client that they've lucked out because "Opposing counsel's insane."

She's right, but he inhabits a universe where his judgments, his desires, and his insights (no matter how obnoxious, self-serving, or willfully blind) are always right, and Audrey's indicate her debilitating neurosis. And so, try as Audrey might to assert her own sense of order -- legal, moral, emotional -- Daniel's "insanity" wins out. So, her client in this case turns out to be a sex addict, a detail that appears to have been left out of their initial discussion of the case and how to win it.

In another version of this movie, say, George Cukor's Adam's Rib (1949), or even the Coen brothers' Intolerable Cruelty, Audrey would have some semblance of "equality" with her match (a quaint notion, perhaps). But this version is all about unevenness. Directed by Peter Howitt (whose Sliding Doors is also, in its way, about a woman's inability to handle the emotional details of her life), Laws of Attraction appears determined to proceed by the numbers, that is, to marry off the rivals and in the process, educate her as to his wisdom concerning "relationships."

During a legal function where both are asked to speak on their profession, the opponents-about-to-be-coupled stake out their positions. Where Audrey gently reads her prepared speech, describing divorce as a learning process, a "chance to look at the complex emotional labyrinth that is the human relationship," Daniel stalks the stage as he addresses a startled crowd: "Lawyers are scum," he scowls. "Divorce lawyers are the fungus growing beneath the scum." And with that, he reveals that he's videotaped Audrey as she was poking around his office (he left the door open, in order to catch her out, just so). She's horrified, and worse, when she tries to apologize, during the date that ensues, she drinks herself into a one-night-stand. Now she's mad, embarrassed, and falling in love. She rejects Daniel immediately.

The film takes what seems a very long time to get the couple hooked up, split, reunited, then split and reunited again, by way of a nasty divorce case on which they are on opposite sides, again. When Daniel steals away Audrey's client, the contrary fashion designer Serena (Parker Posey), Audrey fights back by seeking out the philandering husband, rock star Thorne Jamison (Michael Sheen). Conveniently, the couple fights ferociously over an Irish castle, which means the lawyers must go to said castle to "interview the staff" (this by order of one Judge Abramovitz [Nora Dunn]), and, in the process, drag out the process of their own romance.

While plopped down in the gorgeous countryside, they endure some approximately It Happened One Night-ish road tripping, that is, they begin to like one another all over again. This leads to yet another drunken escapade; the next morning, neither can remember how they came to be wearing wedding rings and sleeping in the same bed. This has all kinds of repercussions, apparently, for their careers as divorce lawyers, and so they agree to pretend to be married back home. Once they move in together, Daniel reveals his supposed adorableness (knowing her affection for Hostess, he bakes her brownies), and Audrey is gradually seduced. Again. This just before the next treachery, leading to another breakup (also known as a "bad patch"), and another reconciliation. Again.

All this back-and-forth is tedious, in part because it means that Audrey and Daniel spend a lot of time together, in montages as well as actual repartee. (Sadly, this leaves less time for Audrey's exchanges with her mother, the film's most buoyant; Fisher's interpretation of decadent harks back to romantic comedies where secondary characters were subtly drawn and clever, rather than broadly buffoonish). For the most part, Audrey is stuck, a point that is only exacerbated in one of the DVD's precious few extras, namely an alternate ending (the other extras include six deleted scenes that are best left that way). In the alternate ending, Audrey is reduced to pining for her man, awaiting his first move before she can make her next one. Suffice it to say that it's all about his turf and his terms, like much of the rest of the movie. The divorce lawyers learn that "you have to fight to save a marriage." Alone, Audrey learns that she must tolerate dishonesty of a devastating sort, because in this universe, Daniel's insanity prevails.






Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.