Wednesday, August 13, 2014

With Friends Like These, Who Needs a Prostitute?: "My Best Friend's Wife" (2001)

I am very nearly the same age as the two main caricatures in the film "My Best Friend's Wife," and I admit to thinking about casual sex in the same way they do. Generation X came of age during the AIDS crisis, which put a damper on all the hippie free-love and swingin' we observed in the 1970's. Best friends ad man Steve (John Stamos) and attorney Eric (Daniel London) resort to the same situation the characters in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" did, with shallow and predictable results.

Shallow and predictable can describe our "heroes" as well as this film. There is an element of sleaze that permeates every scene, an "eww" quotient that makes you want to shower after every plot turn. Eric constantly jokes about swapping wives with Steve, but the joke is never funny to the characters or the viewer. Eric is married to the stunning Ami (the stunning Meredith Salenger), who wants to start a family. Steve is married to Claire (Tara Westwood), an underwritten character who works with Eric. After losing out on a dream job, Steve decides Eric's dumb idea deserves practice as the men already seem to be in the throes of a midlife crisis while only in their early 30's. The wives act appropriately outraged, but eventually come around based on the flimsiest of reasoning (this was written by two men). After the couples swap, there is naturally fallout despite the best laid plans, and the decades-old friendships begin to suffer.

Of the four main performers, Salenger comes off best because she is the last to cave and the most rounded character. She is given two clicheed overbearing parents in the form of Jessica Walter and Tony Roberts, but finally agreeing to the swap so she can start having babies and show up her parents makes little sense. These characters are supposed to be urbane, and the plot "zany," but bits like Steve doing an ad agency-style pitch to his wife about why they should do this falls flat. Director Finelli's use of fadeouts in some scenes made me think I was watching a dirty network television movie with the commercials edited out. The odd loud musical score is all wrong, and I wished for more scenes with Steve and Eric's college roommate Chuck (Bill Sage), a bachelor who sleeps with younger women based on whether they know who the Fonz is.

"My Best Friend's Wife" is a small film, and a small-minded one. It's characters annoy from the first few scenes, and major marital issues like infidelity are played for awkward laughs. I simply did not like these people. Now if you will excuse me, it's time for that shower. (*) out of five stars.