Gray Matters is the worst thing to hit Manhattan since 9/11. Allegedly a 'postcard' to the city, the film is so spectacularly wrong-headed on every level that even its postcard-moments take on an obscene strangeness. I'm thinking in particular of a scene in which two of the main characters sit on an adjacent building-top and just stare at the Empire State building, as if it's some alien monolith that landed here eons ago and requires nightly worship sessions. The innumerable music-overlaid shots of the famous landmark that appear throughout the film, combined with the main character's personality quirks, lifted whole from Meg Ryan's character in When Harry Met Sally, tell us that first-time director Sue Kramer must be a charter member of the Nora Ephron fan club. She must also have some strange, uninformed ideas about her fellow human beings, considering that she's made a non-parodic film about a mid-30s woman who discovers -- as in, hand-over-mouth, 'Oh my God I can't believe I just discovered this' -- that she is homosexual.
We are told to believe that Heather Graham's character, Gray, has gone through her adult life never having an inkling of her true sexuality, until she happens to drunkenly kiss her brother's fiancee. I suppose that, in fairness, it's possible that Gray is as clueless about her own inner self as she is about others -- her hobbies include going to a Spanish restaurant and aping the accent of the Hispanic proprietor, as if she's fascinated by something she's never heard before in her life. And what about this brother of hers? He's the kind of guy, who, upon arriving in his hotel room in Vegas (maybe it was AC) for a quickie wedding, tips the bellhop and tells him "don't spend it all on the slot machines." I'm sure he's never heard that one before, pal. Actor Thomas Cavanagh gives a noticeably bad, almost incompetent performance as Sam. It seems as though he's straining to remember his lines in every scene -- either that or his face has undergone some horrific Botox accident and is now permanently frozen in a constipated expression.
A frozen expression would have been preferable in the case of Sissy Spacek's character. Having been no doubt instructed to give a 'wacky' performance, Spacek unintentionally conjurs up her scariest role since Carrie, as a shrink who takes her clients on out-of-office excursions instead of keeping them couch-bound. The lines she's required to deliver while doing indoor rock-climbing with Gray are not necessarily wacky or even high-spirited lines, but Spacek has been ordered to deliver them with the bouncy-eyed mania of an escaped mental patient. I haven't even gotten to the worst character in the film, however -- that would be Molly Shannon, playing an even more annoying version of herself as the gossipy office worker who gives advice to the lovelorn. It's documented fact by now that Shannon's shtick does not translate to the big screen, and watching her grimace and guffaw and pull faces without any semblance of a net is almost enough to make a reasonable moviegoer (or critic) want to walk out of the theater.
At some point during this review, I'd like to say more about the story and what I think the director's intentions were, but first I just have to point out a few more weird one-offs that occur throughout. Otherwise they will haunt me in my nightmares. Why, for example, would Sam's fiancee (played by expressionless cipher Bridget Moynahan) agree at one point to take a nude bath with her sister-in-law except that the script requires Gray to feel some heightened lesbian sexual tension at that moment? Where, except in the most throw-away 80s sitcom, would the main characters attend a Gloria Gaynor concert and be immediately pulled out of the crowd to do a sing-along of 'I Will Survive?" What kind of screenwriter has the main character throwing a bowling ball into the gutter and then saying, with a straight-face, "that's my life....a gutter-ball." Where is there a gay bar in Manhattan that explicitly forbids men from entering? Isn't that against the law? At what advertising agency do the bosses openly drink wine during work hours?
I'm leaving a lot of things on my list. You'll have to see the film yourself if you want to know about Alan Cumming's role as a wise cab driver -- he has a brogue thicker than William Wallace, but Gray still asks him "Where is that funny accent from?" -- who suddenly turns into a cross-dresser three-quarters into the film. Gray Matters is a film from a director who simply does not know her subject matter, her characters, or even her city. If there were anything positive to say about the film, I would feel compelled to point it out now in order to balance out all the negative things I've said so far. There are a couple of nice ballroom-dance scenes. They eat up several minutes and don't require the characters to talk. One of the dance scenes contains several cutaways to the Richard Whorf film Till the Clouds Roll By; I guess we are supposed to remember it fondly and make a positive comparison to this film. Fat chance.