Wicker Park

You can ask just about anybody who knows me. You could probably even ask a few people who don’t know me. They’ll confirm for you that I am the king of the movie-remake protesters. Even before I knew what their angle was going to be, I was crying foul at Steve and Tom for wanting to remake War of the Worlds. After all, didn’t Roland Emmerich just give the story an exciting and sufficiently original updating a few years ago with Independence Day? But I digress. Despite cringing at the very mentioning of the words “based on the movie by”, I was pleasantly surprised at how successful a remake Wicker Park turned out to be.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the original is a foreign film? Le Appartamente was a brilliant one hit wonder from French writer and director Gilles Mimouni. Originally released in France and Italy in 1996, it also made the artsy theater circuits in Britain and the US. Placed in the rarely utilized “romance mystery” genre, it was a romantic drama with an intense, twisting edginess that earned it well deserved comparison with the works of the immortal Alfred Hitchcock. Despite receiving much acclaim throughout Europe, it never made much of a splash stateside. Wicker Park is that movie reborn in a slightly softer, less edgy incarnation. In other words, something for American audiences to enjoy.

Our story begins on the busy streets of New York. Matthew (Josh Hartnett) is a young man in the city with everything seemingly working out for him. He has a great job with a potentially major promotion on the way. To top it off, he is on the verge of proposing to his beautiful girlfriend, Rebecca (Jessica Paré). You know a movie is going to be good when the characters aren’t really given last names! Matthew prepares to leave for China on the eve of a major business meeting, when a chance run in with someone from his past holds him back. He secretly postpones his trip to follow an odd trail of clues that he believes may lead him back to a woman who mysteriously fell out of his life.

With help from his best friend Luke (Matthew Lillard), and sultry prompting from Luke’s new girlfriend Alex (Rose Byrne), Matthew follows the enticing trail to a familiar place, the apartment of one Lisa (Diane Kruger), a past girlfriend who disappeared two years ago without so much as a goodbye. But the woman he discovers at the apartment is not who he was expecting to find.

Wicker Park is full of great surprises, and not all of them are plot related. Matthew Lillard, who has such distinguished dramatic credits as The Perfect Score, Scooby Doo and Scooby Doo 2, actually takes this role as a chance to prove himself a noteworthy dramatic actor. His character serves as a sort of comic relief, but he keeps to the mood of the story and shines in a way that makes me wonder what the heck he was thinking signing up for Without A Paddle. Somebody get this guy a better agent.

Another pleasant surprise is Josh Hartnett’s turn as Matthew. With his last project being the abysmally unforgivable Hollywood Homicide, Hartnett had a lot of apologizing to do. While in general he maintains a sort of Al Gore-like woodenness that we’ve come to expect from him, he somehow makes it work with this character. It may just be the brilliant presence of costars Lillard, Kruger and Byrne, but Hartnett manages to break through the stiffness at all the right moments, giving an overall performance that matches the realism of the movie. On a side note, making a reprise with Josh is that mole on his neck. Hasn’t he made enough money to pay to have that thing removed yet?

The real stars here are Rose Byrne and Diane Kruger. Both were last seen in this summer’s man-flesh feast Troy, and were ridiculously overshadowed by their male counterparts. Wicker Park could well be called Revenge of the Trojan Women since both actresses spend the entire movie proving that Troy was a pure waste of their astonishing talent, if not their feminine beauty.

Director Paul McGuigan and writer Brandon Boyce have accomplished a difficult feat and it is an achievement that deserves recognition. They have translated a foreign film to an American friendly version in a way that neither diminishes nor excessively departs from the original. In keeping with the feel of the original, McGuigan uses some unique cinematography and risky directing choices in telling his story. Many of them are familiar to foreign flick fans, but they may throw American viewers a bit. In the end, it still all pays off beautifully.

Guys, if you’re worried about the pressure that your girls are putting on you to go see Vanity Fair, offer Wicker Park as a friendly alternative. There are enough interesting twists and turns here to keep everyone flinching and plenty of struggling romance to keep the ladies happy. You might even find yourself having to complain about the theatre’s dusty seats making your eyes water before it’s all said and done.