Directed by Austin Chick. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Kathleen Robertson, Maya Stange, Petra Wright, David Thornton. (2003, R, 91 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 23, 2003

The clever title of this vaguely insightful film about the vagaries of modern romance suggests, with a degree of facetiousness, that the primary difference between men and women – when it comes to relationships, that is – is a chromosomal one. While at times the males and females behave as if on different planets in XX/XY, the film ultimately posits (just as self-help author Dr. John Gray would have us believe) that the defining factor for both sexes is, in the end, one and the same: The law of desire is one made to be broken. Divided into two sections that are separated in time by a decade, XX/XY introduces its trio of principal characters in the summer of 1993, when they meet at a Sarah Lawrence College party and end up in bed together in an aborted attempt at three-way sex. Although the ménage à trois doesn’t pan out, the two girls and a guy (Thea, Sam, and Coles) become friends, and Sam (Strange) and Coles (Ruffalo) fall in love in only the way that twenty-somethings can. The recklessness of youth, however, wrecks the friendships and the love affair, until such time as the three are reunited 10 years later. On the surface, things appear to have changed: Their hairstyles are different, they’re responsible adults, and each is in a relationship of one form or another, with the once id-driven Thea (Robertson) the most settled of the bunch. But, of course, old feelings bubble up to that surface and, before you know it, things get messy again. In both style and substance, XX/XY has a Gallic feel to it, from its New Wave use of jump cuts and close-ups to the casual intimacy of its characters. The cast is an impossibly beautiful bunch of actors who could hold your attention even if they spoke nothing but gibberish, which sometimes is the case in the pillow-talk dialogue provided by director/screenwriter Chick. What’s a little disconcerting about the film, however, is that it engages in a bit of moralizing in the end that seems out of another movie altogether. True, Coles is, at heart, a spineless prick, but the other characters in the film don’t figure as his moral superiors in any way. In XX/XY, biology may distinguish men from women, but when it comes to acting unprincipled, it’s definitely no impediment.

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XX/XY, Austin Chick, Mark Ruffalo, Kathleen Robertson, Maya Stange, Petra Wright, David Thornton

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