Photo by Bernard WalshJulianne Moore has put in so much screen time sobbing into her pillow that it requires a leap of faith to take her onboard as the heroine of a romantic romp, let alone one meant to bend the knee before Hepburn and Tracy. Moore doesn't take to screwball as effortlessly as Julia Roberts, but she gives good enough uptight-career-girl to function quite nicely in Laws of Attraction, and she has a relaxed Pierce Brosnan—no Spencer Tracy, though a passable Cary Grant—to play off.
In this agreeable clich of a movie, smoothly directed by Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) and ripped off practically wholesale from Adam's Rib by screenwriters Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling (the story credit, with supreme gall, goes to McKenna), Moore and Brosnan play Audrey Woods and Daniel Rafferty, two A-list divorce attorneys who fall in love even as they massacre one another in court. Audrey is a classic Type-A, an icy and controlled killer in the courtroom who plays meticulously by the rules but gorges on Twinkies and Cheetos when stressed. Daniel, raffishly schleppy and seemingly disorganized, is in fact a wily old goat who wins his cases by chutzpah. Brosnan ages well—wrinkles become him—and his character (sit up straight, girls) actually fancies women over 30, especially unattainable ones.
The movies that inspired Laws of Attraction lived or died by the quality of their dialogue, which in turn fed the chemistry between their leads. Harling (who wrote Steel Magnolias, 'nuff said) and McKenna get off some good lines, but the best of them go to the excellent supporting cast: Frances Fisher is a delight as Audrey's youth-obsessed mom, while Michael Sheen and Parker Posey are very funny as the mad British rocker and his stoned fashion-designer wife, over whose divorce case our heroes are battling. Absent the requisite sparkling banter, though, Moore and Brosnan coast uncomfortably until more plot is poured on to fill the vacuum. The dueling pair are shunted off to Ireland, where the hedgerows are lined with salt-of-the-earth yokels ready and willing to model the good life. The only remaining question is, when will Audrey jettison her overachieving ways and succumb?
Laws of Attraction, which opened the just-concluded Newport Beach Film Festival, has enough residual feminist smarts to have Daniel, not Audrey, make the anti-career, let's-get-away-from-it-all speech. Still, female moviegoers in this post-feminist age are unlikely to object to the spectacle of a woman abandoning all career goals for the sake of some twinkling Irish eyes—they're used to the movies savaging ambitious women. And you must remember this: Fatal Attraction, one of the most vicious attacks on the career woman ever made, was made in 1987, when feminism was in far more limber shape than it is now. —Ella Taylor
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Laws of Attraction was directed by Peter Howitt; written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling from a story by McKenna; produced by David T. Friendly and Marc Turtletaub; and stars Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Now playing countywide.