Closer is anything but. Spanglish comes closer. To portraying genuine intimacy, that is. Both films deal with it in very different ways.
Closer examines the inability of two couples to achieve it (in spite of trading partners ... several times). The characters repel each other and the audience. They also attract each other?#34;and fascinate the audience. The film makes for compelling viewing and the actors are all very watchable?#34;particularly Clive Owen who steals the film, and perhaps was intended to, as the only character who seems to have a core, albeit a barbaric core.
But I'm not sure I learned a thing about human relationships, other than the fact that aberrant personalities have an even harder time achieving intimacy than the rest of us. In fact, the film seems to argue for the impossibility of intimacy.
But it's well written, which makes it watchable to the point of mesmerizing. At times it resembles the more savage dramas of Eugene O'Neill or Anton Chekhov, with characters stripping away each other's facades and descending into the realm of relationship hell. Everyone is painfully honest?#34;to the point of sadism.
While it's thrilling to watch people expose their darkest sides, it isn't exactly satisfying emotionally. If misery loves company, Closer is the movie for you.
Spanglish, on the other hand, has more heart. Yes, it's Hollywood hokey and improbable, which probably accounts for the lukewarm reviews it has received, but it isn't afraid of intimacy. This is familiar ground for James L. Brooks, who makes very entertaining films about people trying, often comically, to connect (e.g. As Good As It Gets and Terms of Endearment). The characters spend much of their time missing, which accounts for the comedy, but there's always a moment, maybe two or three, where it happens.
I gave Spanglish a try, in spite of the reviews, because of Brooks' track record, and I wasn't disappointed. The film has several of those magical moments of connection. It is occasionally wise, warm and witty without getting overly mired in cliche. You have to look past its obvious flaws for those few moments that make the movie pay off. And it does?#34;unlike Closer, which simply takes you to hell and leaves you there.
The thing I love most about films are those rare moments when two human beings genuinely, deeply connect. Sideways, which recently ended an extended run at the Lake, had one in particular that was worth the price of admission. Spanglish featured a couple of moments that were almost as good.
Closer is, in many ways, a better film than Spanglish, but given a choice, I'll spend two hours with Brooks' take on intimacy anytime.