Love in the Time of Money (2002)

Rated R for a disturbing violent image, strong sexual content and language.

Starring Vera Farmiga, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jill Hennessy, Malcolm Gets, Steve Buscemi, Rosario Dawson, Adrian Grenier, Carol Kane, Michael Imperioli.
Written and directed by Peter Mattei.
Distributed by ThinkFilm.
90 minutes.

LVJeff's Rating: 4/10

Photo ©ThinkFilm. All rights reserved.

A Lost Love

When it's time to look back, Love in the Time of Money will probably be one of those movies barely registering a blip on the radar screen of 2002. It's downbeat, cold, tedious, and not very insightful -- poor traits for any independent movie hoping to garner that coveted good word of mouth. Too bad, then, for first time director Peter Mattei -- he would have a better chance of getting attention if he yelled "Fire!" in an empty auditorium.

The movie's main problem involves a belief that its premise alone can make it interesting. Based on the play Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler (whose work also provided the basis for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut), Love in the Time of Money follows a chain of encounters involving nine disparate New Yorkers. Person 1 meets Person 2 in the first scene, then Person 2 moves on and meets Person 3 in the next, followed by Person 3's interaction with Person 4, etc. Eventually, everything wraps all the way back around when Person 9 meets Person 1. These nine people represent a wide variety of the city's populace, from prostitute to socialite, struggling artist to wall street broker, and so on. They are all emotionally messed up and find temporary, shallow solace in impersonal sex.

And that's just about it. The film offers little else -- as a whole, all characters display a general sense of discontent which is not explored satisfactorily; individually, each of them occupies brief screen time. Therefore, we don't get to know them apart from their being forlorn. A shallow sadness piles on one person after the other, squeezing out any joy that can be found -- even from events that could be considered amusing. Although I like a sad movie as much as the next guy, a film showcasing misery for misery's sake is a chore to sit through. Sadness needs to be compelling and well-developed in order to evoke the viewer's pity.

These characters don't feel like people; they just seem like, well, characters. Their dialogue is full of either spite or self-pity. Only a few of the actors are able to play their roles as if they are on the verge of breaking the humdrum mood -- Steve Buscemi's natural goofiness offers a glimpse of fun, and Carol Kane gives a humorous turn as a quirky phone psychic. But every one of these characters are shortchanged when they find themselves in repetitive and unrealistic situations. A little over halfway through, I started to roll my eyes whenever the next desperate soul started begging for cheap sexual gratification.

Mattei could use a lesson from another first-time director -- Dylan Kidd. He, too, has a recently-released movie about love in New York. Roger Dodger comes across as witty and funny while featuring dialogue and character interaction infused with life, insight and irony. Kidd's film involves the viewer, whereas Mattei's movie just sits on the screen. Love in the Time of Money may be the most regrettable kind of big-screen debut -- not interesting enough to be remembered, and just inoffensive enough to be easily forgotten.

©Jeffrey Chen, Oct. 28, 2002

This review also appears at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.

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