“Anatomy of Love” is no guide to better sex. The steamy and playful sides of love never take center stage. Yet Oprah does it, Geraldo certainly does it, even Ricki Lake does it, so why shouldn’t TBS display the true confessions of real people on the subject of love — especially when they’re backed up by an anthropologist?
Well-produced two-part doc, based on a book by host Helen Fisher, isn’t fluff. Valentine’s audiences will probably hang in for four slick and structured hours. Their appetite for both romance and prurience won’t be satisfied, but they might learn something.
Director-writer Katherine Gilday and producer-writer Rachel Low did a good job of finding and handling their real-life North American, Japanese and African subjects. A more articulate, photogenic (though not necessarily beautiful) and sincere bunch you’re not likely to see on TV. But the interviews often come off as scripted; their staginess might have been dispelled if the interviewers and questions were acknowledged.
The subjects’ reflections are linked by Fisher, who supplies facts and an evolutionary explanation for amorous phenomenon.
Hour one, “Courtship,” follows Manhattanite Isabelle, Samburu warrior Bina and Keiichi of Tokyo. Obsessive Isabelle is brought to tears by her failure to find Mr. Right, and her accessible story holds together the relatively unenlightening hour. Isn’t it obvious that talking marks an escalation point in a pickup?
The “Marriage” segment studies the cold union of Megumi and Kunihikio, the wedding of Paul and Judy from New Jersey, and senior citizens Les and Bertha. Moving Kenyan sequences deal with sobering topics like female circumcision and, as in Japan, the strict patriarchal system. Fisher asserts that security, contentment and peace are biological states with chemical causes, just like the thrill of love.
Things turn racier in third seg, when the pros and cons of adultery are explored from many viewpoints: swinging fashion editor Valerie, a 54-year-old redhead who’s been married five times; Donna and Gerald, suburbanites with an open marriage; Kara, a prostitute; Motohiro, a businessman with a wife, family and four girlfriends; and the obligatory private eye.
The final hour, “Breaking Up and Staying Together,” examines a number of on-the-rocks relationships. Fourteen-year-old Agnes is ostracized for leaving her elderly husband in Kenya. Noriko, a middle-aged housewife, initiates divorce proceedings after discovering hubby slept with 200 other women. Fisher expounds her “four-year itch” theory: Couples are biologically conditioned to split once a child doesn’t need the exclusive attention of the mother and can be cared for in a group.
Perched authoritatively in her armchair, Fisher rolls out her stats and theories mainly to provide context for the artfully presented stories.Viewers aren’t overwhelmed with info, and while some parts are more insightful than others, it’s mostly intelligent stuff.
Although the juxtaposition of cultures is rhetorically effective, it papers over deeper differences. But apparently no matter where you are, love comes down to sex/reproduction and money/security. Production values are high, with first-rate editing, lighting and photography.
Still, the package has an antiseptic feel. The production is so proficient that the warmth and humor of love are lost. It’s also very conservative, with no mention of birth control or sexually transmitted diseases. Homosexual love is never broached, and all the subjects are middle class.
“Anatomy of Love” is more about marriage than love per se. But that’s not the only reason this substantive yet tame effort turns out to be kind of a downer. You’re left with a hankering for “Love Connection” or “The Newlywed Game.”