Review: ‘Seeing Other People’

Deftly and caustically observes how a yuppie couple's sudden sexual panic triggers unease and change in everyone they know. Pic is a case of cogent moviemaking that really knows its business. One of the most satisfying comedies in a fallow season. Terrific ensemble of mostly TV-based thesps will pump up ancillary biz, especially cable.

“Seeing Other People” deftly and caustically observes how a yuppie couple’s sudden sexual panic triggers unease and change in everyone they know. While lacking originality, pic is a case of cogent moviemaking that really knows its business. Traces of early Steven Soderbergh and recent Larry David enhance one of the most satisfying comedies in a fallow season. Limited theatrical opening (care of boutique distrib Lantern Lane) will return a mild take, but a terrific ensemble of mostly TV-based thesps will pump up ancillary biz, especially cable.

Deficiency of bright comedies about grown people who know their way around the bedroom underlines the ity of this brand of movie — courtesy of married co-writers Wally Wolodarsky (who also handily directed) and Maya Forbes (scribes on tube classics “The Tracy Ullman Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show”).

Pondering if it’s “possible to find happiness, and just be happy with it?” TV sitcom writer-producer Ed (Jay Mohr), with fiance Alice (Julianne Nicholson), appear to be in domestic bliss, and their circle of friends and loved ones find them a model couple. A nifty engagement party sequence both fully and economically establishes relationships and characters.

Alice’s sour and jaded sis Claire (Lauren Graham), in a losing marriage to randy Brit husband Peter (Bryan Cranston), is plainly jealous of Ed and Alice, while pal Carl (Andy Richter) calls the pair “my favorite couple.”

But when Alice and Claire accidentally catch a guest and a waiter doing the nasty during the party, it leaves an unexpected impression, and Alice tells Ed — in a proposal right out of an early ’70s Mazursky movie — that she needs to sew some wild oats before wedlock, and that Ed can too if he wants.

Premise sounds implausible, but Nicholson’s thorough rendering of Alice as a willowy, intelligent and more than a bit self-deluded naif puts it over.

One of the pic’s most thoughtful surprises is to casually slip away from the predictably problematic fallout of the Ed-Alice drama, and sidle over to their friends’ reactions. Ed’s cocky agent Lou (Josh Charles) is enthralled by the couple’s free love approach, while Alice’s biz partner Venita (Niki J. Crawford) and Carl are aghast. However, Carl, meets Penelope (Helen Slater), a hilariously stressed-out single mom feeling overmatched by her growing son, and finds unexpected ways to make peace in her household.

Casting is precise, starting with Mohr, who turns a reactive role into a funny-melancholy depiction of the Confused American Male. Making Alice the center of attention, Nicholson humanizes everything she touches; the flinty yet loving chemistry between the two leads is indispensable.

Graham does a 180 from her “Gilmore Girls” persona, delivering a brilliantly acidic performance that’s matched by Cranston (copping a slightly goofy Brit accent) and Charles (decorating the soundtrack with R-rated verbiage). Richter finds a niche of his own in a wonderful characterization, as does Davis, whose Donald gets pathetically lost in Alice’s game. Slater’s few minutes on screen resonate long after closing credits.

Although widescreen lensing would seem an unlikely choice for a film with mainly domestic settings (in wisely selected Los Angeles homes), director Wolodarsky and d.p. Mark Doering-Powell manage it smoothly from a slightly distanced vantage point. 24p digital process, with its usual color and light problems, is less felicitous. Alan Elliott’s score infectiously mixes bossa nova and Bacharach.

Seeing Other People

Production

A Lantern Lane Entertainment release of a Lantern Lane Entertainment and Pariah presentation. Produced by Gavin Polone. Executive producers, Vivian Cannon, Maya Forbes, Dan Kaplow. Co-producer, Richard T. Schor. Directed by Wally Wolodarsky. Screenplay, Maya Forbes, Wolodarsky.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen, 24p DV-to-35mm), Mark Doering-Powell; editor, Stewart Schill; music, Alan Elliott; production designer, Dan Butts; art director, Kate Bunch; costume designer, Jacqueline K. Saint Anne; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken McLaughlin; supervising sound editor, Wilson Dyer; associate producer, Judy Oseransky; assistant director, George Bamber; casting, Karen Meisels. Reviewed at MGM screening room, Los Angeles, April 22, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Ed - Jay Mohr Alice - Julianne Nicholson Lou - Josh Charles Carl - Andy Richter Claire - Lauren Graham Peter - Bryan Cranston Venita - Niki J. Crawford Donald - Matthew Davis Penelope - Helen Slater Sandy - Jill Ritchie
With: Dylan McLaughlin, Mimi Rogers, Liz Phair.
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