Who's In It: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, Danny Pino, J.D. Pardo, John Corbett, Joaquim de Almeida, Jose Maria Yazpik, Robin Tunney
The Basics: Melancholy (Seattle? Portland? Generic Gray Place?) restaurant hostess Charlize Theron has secrets. So does cheating New Mexico housewife Kim Basinger. So do a couple of teenage lovers whose romance is as DL as it can get. Of course, because this is a movie from the guy who wrote Amores Perros and 21 Grams (and had his hand in the Babel stew of interconnectedness, so you pretty much know what he's about by this point), you know that tragedy is what's for dinner at Chez Charlize and everybody is invited to dine because they're all related somehow. In fact, you'll figure out how those relations relate long before the movie finally tells you.
What's The Deal: The fall Oscar-movie season is just summer for people who think they're smart. It's when dour dispositions and moody cinematography take the place of kick-ass robots chasing Megan Fox into some pyramids. So fresh out of the September starting gate comes this one, which means it's time for Charlize Theron to wear no makeup, cut herself, bare her breasts in a depressive manner and get all meaningful. Not to harsh on CT too much; if I have to choose between, oh say, the aloof, lazy Beckinsale Way and the Theron Approach of being a hot chick who prefers to get gritty and drive the tour bus through Bummer Town, I'd sooner look at the latter. But this predictable slog isn't worth her time and effort.
What's Good About It: The back-and-forth between harshly sunlit New Mexico desert-scapes and the suicidally blue-filtered overcast Pacific Northwest makes it all look really nice while the sadness rolls over you. Sometimes good-looking surroundings is all you need, especially when you're trying to make a Piggly Wiggly in Las Cruces seem compelling. Not here, mind you, but that doesn't diminish the clear talents of this movie's director of photography.
What Else Is Good About It In All The Wrong Ways: Kim Basinger, Oscar winner though she may be, is weirdly miscast. Her face and hair are just this side of too glamorous to be a down-market New Mexico housewife married to a truck driver. And there's one awesome throwaway moment in which she's trying to vacuum a rug, literally shoving the machine around with both hands like she's trying to push Alec Baldwin out a door, and suddenly the movie stops being about anything other than, "Holy crap, Movie Star Lady, you don't even know how to use a vacuum cleaner."
Disclaimer On Behalf Of All The People Of New Mexico: There's a hilarious couple of scenes where the secret lover-teens slingshot a wild desert rat-bird to death, cook it and eat it. Now, I grew up for a time a town in southeastern New Mexico myself and I would like to state, for the record, that this is not what folks there ran around doing. We went to Sonic like normal people. P.S. go check out Charlize being funny with Zach Galifianakis on his "Between Two Ferns" web clips. I forget what site it's on. Google it if you have to. Watch it over and over for two hours and save yourself from this movie.