Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

dot the i

In the first of many dramatic sleights of hand, first-time writer-director Matthew Parkhill opens his dot the i with a scene of almost impossible domestic bliss. In a sumptuous London flat, James D'Arcy prepares dinner for his Spanish girlfriend Natalia Verbeke as if nothing in life could give him greater pleasure. Seeking to secure this happiness, he proposes to her using a slice of onion for a ring. They embrace, and the love fills the room. Joy.

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Of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie if everything was as it appeared; it's not a question of whether cracks will start to appear, but when and how. The film doesn't take long to answer those questions, letting Verbeke's doubt come to the surface when a waiter suggests her bachelorette party won't be complete until she engages in the "old French tradition" of kissing a handsome stranger as a farewell to her single life. Struggling actor Gael García Bernal happily steps into this role, handing his ever-present video camera off to a friend and turning the kiss from a friendly peck to an occasion for onlookers to burst into applause. Not content to leave it at that, he soon shows up at Verbeke's workplace to continue the flirtation, moving the film toward another old French tradition: la triangle d'amour.

The film follows Bernal and Verbeke's blossoming romance as a suspicious D'Arcy descends into despair, and though Parkhill directs with considerable flair, there's no shaking a seen-it-before vibe as the talented cast wrestles to overcome pat dialogue and situations. But apparently that's part of the point. With only a little warning, dot the i yanks the rug out from under viewers and characters alike and becomes a different kind of film entirely. It would be unfair to reveal exactly what kind of film, but suffice it to say that sex, lies, and videotape all play prominent parts, nothing's quite what it seems, film is revealed as an intrinsically voyeuristic medium, playacting is exposed as a part of everyday life, the influence of celebrity culture and reality television are commented upon, and audiences are challenged to wonder whether they can handle the truth.

And yawn, does that drippy love-triangle story start to look good by the time Parkhill finishes showing his hand. The plot's profound implausibility wouldn't matter if the ideas and emotions behind it had any power. But they're only ideas, and not particularly original ones at that, even though there is some novelty to Trojan-horsing them into what looks like a standard genre picture. It's a bait-and-switch trick, but neither the bait nor the switch are worth the effort, and that's the cruelest twist of all.

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