'Third Person' is emotional finger-painting

Matt Pais movie review: 'Third Person'

'Third Person'

'Third Person' (June 23, 2014)

*1/2 (out of four)

The twist in “Third Person” isn’t a shock; it’s an inevitability—the groan-worthy culmination to a story that folds in on itself instead of expanding. Sure, the consuming nature of grief and pain are part of the point in this effort from writer-director Paul Haggis (“Crash”), but still. Come on.

Like “Crash,” “Third Person” hops among a series of interconnected dramas in a style exhausted by movies like “21 Grams” and “Babel.” A writer (Liam Neeson) has a rendezvous with his mistress (Olivia Wilde) in Paris; a businessman (Adrien Brody) meets an impossible beauty (Moran Atias of Haggis’ mediocre “The Next Three Days”) in Rome and becomes embroiled in an attempt to get her daughter back; and a woman (Mila Kunis) in New York tries to redeem herself after a terrible incident involving her child, which her ex (James Franco), a wealthy fingerpainter (really), may never forgive.

Following the underrated “Date Night” and the misguided “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” “Third Person” marks the third and worst movie co-starring Kunis and Franco. He’s not as terrible here as he was in “Oz,” but that’s like saying a $1 burger tastes better than my shoe. (Side note: I don’t hate James Franco. His performance in “Spring Breakers” is a classic. Classic.)

None of the actors have a chance to turn their characters into more than poorly-written placeholders for emotion, though Wilde (so good in “Drinking Buddies”) finds as much honesty as she can in a ridiculous part. What develops about her character is something that just shouldn’t be handled in the sideline manner that Haggis employs. There’s also bad dialogue like Neeson’s wife (Kim Basinger) telling him, “You love love; it’s people you don’t have time for.”

In its scrambled, irritating way, “Third Person” attempts to ponder losses that shut down everything else. Though when Brody’s character complains about Italians turning everything into a soap opera, Haggis, using the film to examine creative types despite having little insight, should have taken his own advice.

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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