Keira Knightley is Joanna, a New York writer with a fabulous Tribeca apartment and a blocky husband, Michael, who may be having an affair. Off he and the other woman go to Philadelphia on a business trip (ha!), leaving Joanna to circle her really great apartment, smoking like a chimney … wondering.
But not for long: Ten minutes after her husband has gone, an old flame, Alex, a handsome French novelist (ha!), shows up.
They have dinner. Alex (Guillaume Canet) clearly wants Joanna. And she, him. But Joanna is married to Michael. That should mean something, right?
Meanwhile, in Philly, the block (Sam Worthington) is crumbling, probably because his commercial real estate associate, Laura, is leaning all over him in elevators (we should mention here that the actress playing Laura, Eva Mendes, is very good at leaning).
Will they or won't they? The rest of the film follows the wayward couples - pretty moths flying too close to dancing flames.
Oh, that first-time filmmaker Massy Tadjedin wasn't so afraid of fire. Last Night tries for elegant, restrained adult entertainment. The settings require that characters dress up - Manhattan openings, smart dinner parties and chic restaurants. Joanna's apartment is littered with oversized art books. The film's composer, Clint Mansell, offers up an austere piano concerto.
But there can be such a thing as too much restraint, especially in film melodramas, where passions, like spring rivers, are supposed to flow reckless and free.
Forget about sex or adultery - there isn't enough life in Last Night. No shocked thrill of physical discovery that you get in a proper romance. Instead, we have four fretting lovers bumming each other out by snuffing out their candles at both ends.
The film's problems begin and end with Michael, who just doesn't add up. His character is a hulking Australian who is afraid of life, incapable of committing to either his beautiful wife or sexy, would-be mistress. He's like a rugby player playing T.S. Eliot's worrywart, J. Alfred Prufrock. Neither filmmaker Tadjedin nor Worthington ( Avatar), know what to do with Michael, who mopes through the film, mumbling and staring at his shoes.
Last Night's "hot scene" - a midnight swim with Michael and Laura - is ridiculously prim. The couple drink too much and slip from their hotel bar to a closed pool, where they strip down to their underwear - she in a long slip, he in his bulky boxers. The interlude lasts but a couple of minutes. The water isn't too cold. Michael is.
Michael's diffidence makes the female characters around him unattractive. Joanna flutters and fumes. Laura grows tired and remote.
The Joanna-Alex affair is more interesting. Canet (who directed Tell No One) as Alex is at least lively company. He listens where Michael broods. Canet and Knightley exhibit a flirty chemistry. The film picks up whenever we're around them. But when they become too close, Joanna begins thinking of Marriage and Commitment. Michael, it seems, is contagious.
Filmmaker Tadjedin is covering Woody Allen's emotional and physical terrain here. Last Night is a New York morality play: A film in love with (lower) Manhattan that is suspicious of real romance. What it lacks is Allen's sense of horseplay; his appetite for lunatic adventure.
When you take a bite of the Big Apple, you're not supposed to nibble.
- Written and directed by Massy Tadjedin
- Starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet and Griffin Dunne
- Classification: PG
Special to The Globe and Mail