Designing ‘Women’

While it sometimes makes you feel as if you’re watching an 84-minute exercise, “Conversations With Other Women,” a split-screen, manipulatively plotted man-and-woman drama, contains enough romantic-condition truth to be able to overcome its artiness. It succeeds overall as a minor-key duet that is stimulating, smart and multifaceted.

Directed by newcomer Hans Canosa, the film depicts a history-imbued brief encounter, which it peppers with humor and laces with cynicism. The result might be described as somewhere between “Wedding Crashers”-dark and Ingmar Bergman-lite. The movie is marred by gimmickry but made engaging and credible by its ability to dynamically blend the romantic with the real.

Billed simply as “Man” (Aaron Eckhart) and “Woman” (Helena Bonham Carter), the protagonists are 38-year-olds who meet at a wedding (he’s the bride’s brother; she’s a last-resort bridesmaid), flirt and gravitate to a hotel room for sex. Their conversations eventually reveal that these seeming strangers first met 20 years ago, that they share a substantial past and that their hotel one-nighter, into which heplunges less conflictedly than she does, could spark serious consequences.

Stylistically and structurally, there are problems. The presentation of the entire film in split-screen (which Canosa uses to present dual reactions simultaneously and to juxtapose images of the current couple with those of their teenage selves) doesn’t suit the processing mechanism of the eye. Screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin’s bit-by-bit disclosure of the nature of the pair’s past involves dialogue that such people would never speak.

But the film overcomes such failings. That’s largely because, alongside the rocky storytelling, something grippingly textured and human is going on.

Never sugary, Canosa keenly, and sometimes surprisingly sadly, captures the accumulation of desire, resignation, regret and blown opportunity that constitutes mature adulthood. Zevin serves up characters who surprise us in, more intriguingly, little ways — by displaying personality shades and saying witty things. And Bonham Carter and Eckhart, actors with movie-star looks who have refused to let Hollywood dumb them down, give this material both an overt charge (Eckhart) and a wealth of underlying dimension (Bonham Carter).

All of which adds up to a flawed but distinctive and vital trip through the relationship thicket with two welcomely complicated people. You might even call this a date movie for the semicynical and the wholly unsentimental.

Conversations with Other Women ???

Starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart

Written by Gabrielle Zevin

Directed by Hans Canosa

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

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