Movie review: 'Conversations with Other Women'

EntertainmentCelebritiesMoviesWeddingsHelena Bonham CarterAaron EckhartMichael Phillips

2½ stars (out of four)

Helena Bonham Carter is so good in "Conversations With Other Women," the film nearly works in spite of its tricky pretentions. Time was, the English actress looked as if she wasn't sure she wanted to be on camera at all. Twenty years ago in "A Room With A View" Bonham Carter hadn't yet mastered certain technical aspects of acting: how to pace a room or how to wring one's hands without looking like an understudy in a Victorian melodrama, for example.

All it took was a few movies, and suddenly, there she was, hitting three emotional notes at once, adding wit, skill and feeling to everything from "The Wings of the Dove" to "Fight Club" to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (directed by her domestic partner, Tim Burton). She started out a Merchant-Ivory poppet; she turned out to be a first-rate actress, adaptable to any milieu.

In "Conversations With Other Women" Bonham Carter plays an unnamed woman who has traveled from England to New York City to serve as a bridesmaid at a wedding where she knows precious few of the participants. Aaron Eckhart, playing a wedding guest, strikes up a conversation with her. Soon we realize these two are old flames with new lives: He now lives with a much younger dancer, she with a cardiologist many years her elder.

Woman and Man (that's how they're billed--yeeesh) gingerly explore the possibility of a sexual reconnection. Despite this suspense, "Conversations With Other Women" plops along like a mediocre one-act play with a difference. The difference: Director Hans Canosa shoots the whole thing in varieties of split-screen. On the left side of the screen, for example, we'll see Bonham Carter alone, pensive, while on the right side she'll share the frame with Eckhart in intimate proximity. Often the time frames mismatch, so that one side of the screen depicts a moment contradicted, or leapfrogged, by the other.

The gimmick has its poetic moments, but the actors can't do much to make screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin's strategems for characters seem like real people. Eckhart is an interesting presence in the right role (he was most droll in "Thank You For Smoking") but he has a callow-weasel streak he can barely contain. (It's something about the squareness of the jaw and the cat-eating-canary grin.) After a while in "Conversations" Eckhart's actorly schmuckiness adds so much to an already schmucky character, you feel as though you're getting schmucked to death.

Bonham Carter transcends all that, and in her cool, wryly self-mocking fashion she manages to reveal all sorts of inner-life tensions. This minor relationship picture comes and goes, but her performance lingers.

mjphillips@tribune.com

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'Conversations with Other Women'

Directed and edited by Hans Canosa; screenplay by Gabrielle Zevin; cinematography by Steve Yedlin; production design by Jodie Lynn Tillen; music by Starr Parodi and Jeff Eden Fair; produced by Ram Bergman, Bill McCutchen and Kerry Barden. A Fabrication Films release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:24. MPAA rating: R (for language and sexual content).

Man - Aaron Eckhart

Woman - Helena Bonham Carter

Sarah - Cerina Vincent

Jeffrey - Philip Littell

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