Wednesday, December 23, 2015
A Christmas Week Movie Review: PERFECT SENSE
During the week of Christmas, I always find myself in a brain fog by the end of the day. Combination of too much sugar and trying to keep up with too many to-do lists. This year, in addition, we're in the process of closing on a house ... and I have a book deadline looming and a big work project just wrapping up. No pressure!
So by evening I'm ready to give my brain a couple hours off. Last night I started out with Doctor Who episodes, but found I wasn't in the mood for quirky sci-fi mayhem and needed something quieter. Browsing through romances on Netflix, I stumbled on PERFECT SENSE, a sci-fi romance from 2011 that I had somehow missed.
I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, but will say one thing to properly set up romance-reader expectations. [Now's a good time to SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH if you don't want to know!] This film DOES follow the classic romantic story arc, but by the end, the external circumstances are quite grim. The film leaves you free to envision the couple's future as you like, but it would take a pretty positive person to imagine everything turns out rosy.
This film stars Eva Green, who plays an epidemiologist (Susan), and Ewan McGregor, who plays the chef (Michael) who works next door to her flat. Like any good romance, the film opens with glimpses into our hero and heroine's baggage. Michael has classic intimacy issues. Susan is just coming out of a depression triggered by the end of a relationship. One of my nits about the film is this setup. Susan, presented as a bright, competent, self-sufficient doctor, is looking for the right man. The handsome and talented Michael is looking for sex with no attachments. These two end up being rather complicated individuals, and this classic setup felt a little tired. What saves it is the fact their roles reverse later.
Once we have a snapshot of the couple, the sci-fi worldbuilding commences. A colleague wants to consult Susan about a strange case — a man was brought to the hospital by his wife after suffering a sudden, acute, and uncharacteristic bout of sadness. The episode was brief, but at the end of it he found he had lost his sense of smell. The colleague tells Susan there are cases of this popping up all over the country.
This is the framework for the sci-fi half of the tale. A brief, acute psychological episode, followed by loss of another sense. No one is spared, but everyone is on a different timetable based on when they were exposed. I say "exposed," but the story's doctors can't find any evidence it's actually a virus. My only other real nit about the film is that the doctors in this story remain pretty much helpless throughout. There are theories, but we never truly see them hard at work making discoveries, trying to get to the bottom of it.
With that said, these circumstances create a rich and fascinating backdrop for the development of a romance. Michael meets Susan when, going out for a smoke on the street below her flat, he calls up to her window to bum a cigarette. He's cheeky and charming, but she's having none of it — at first. It's when she does finally agree to go out with him that her own symptoms begin to manifest. She bursts into tears at the restaurant, and Michael very gallantly takes her under his wing and gets her home. They end up in bed together, but fully clothed. It's all about comforting her, until the moment he too succumbs to acute grief, and she comforts him. In the morning they wake up to coffee they can't smell, and an uncertain sort of bond. What do they mean to each other after this? Do they have any future? Do they want one?
I found watching the development of this romance under such odd circumstances fascinating. NPR's review of this film said, "Perfect Sense shines best outside of the bedroom, in sequences that show the human race adjusting to tragedy after tragedy." I agree that the film's portrayal of humanity responding to a slowly unfolding disaster was very well done. (I especially enjoyed watching Michael's restaurant adapt to the fact people were losing senses that are critical to the enjoyment of food.) But frankly, I find this dismissal of the romance element to be very similar to sci-fi romance reviews that are clearly written by readers who disapprove of romantic story arcs.
Because the romance between Michael and Susan is compelling, tender, and ... let me just say if you happen to be away from your significant other this holiday season as I have been the last few days, you may experience a profound sense of longing. And not just the physical kind. There is fantastic emotional and sexual chemistry between these two actors, intensified by the fact the story is constantly nudging you to cherish the people you love while you can.
While I enjoyed the performance of both of these actors, I was particularly struck by McGregor as a romantic hero. I enjoy McGregor's films (especially the LONG WAY ROUND series about an epic motorbike trip), and though I do have an obsession with gingers, I never really thought of him as ... well, hot. He's charming in a sweet, kid-brother sort of way. (And in fact he was born the same year as my kid brother.)
But in PERFECT SENSE, one glimpse of the heroine and he's transformed from a cold-hearted womanizer to charming rogue. There are numerous, lengthy love scenes. They never become particularly graphic — tasteful nudity and lots of tenderness and sensuality — but this is some of the hottest snogging I've ever seen. Besides that I'm an arms gal, and Michael's are gorgeous.
In short, despite a couple of nits about the early character development and the story, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I'd meant to watch half an hour and go to bed, but stayed up until 12:30 AM to finish it. And I've been thinking about it ever since.
PERFECT SENSE is available to stream on Netflix and Amazon. Here's a trailer. (If you decide to watch the film, note that the woman in bed with McGregor in his opening scene is NOT the heroine. This confused me for a bit, and the reviewer at the New York Times was apparently confused too and never figured it out. As you watch the film and piece together their backstory, it becomes obvious.)