The battle of the sexes is restaged to clever but inconsequential effect in “Conversations With Other Women.” Very much a case of old wine in a new bottle, this two-hander about a couple sparring and trysting over the course of a night is played out entirely in split-screen — or, as first-time director Hans Canosa calls it, “dual-frame” — with sometimes catchy but more often innocuous results. Names of Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart could lift this from the fest circuit to very limited theatrical runs.
An unnamed man and woman in their late 30s meet at the New York hotel ballroom wedding of the man’s sister. As she (Bonham Carter) chain-smokes and he (Eckhart) chain-drinks, innuendos and witticisms roll out of their mouths, and they circle one another like cats; they both appear pretty good at their games — she at simultaneously warding off and attracting male attention with British-accented zingers, he at coming at a woman from so many different angles that his relentlessness is finally irresistible.
First-time helmer Canosa divides the Panavision widescreen frame right down the middle, with one character on each side. But as the actors and camera move around, boundaries are ignored, and thesps often cross the middle line to the other side or turn up in alternate angles of the same scene.
Format is further used to provide flashes of what the characters are talking about, particularly a past that shortly clarifies itself as one the two characters shared as student lovers two decades earlier. Revelation henceforth gives their interchanges a new layer of import as the evening pushes toward the time for them to decide whether or not they’re going to bed down; she’s got a husband and kids in London, and he’s got a hot young girlfriend.
Initial stretch has a frisky, fast-on-its-feet quality that engages, and Bonham Carter’s self-deprecating and dismissive way with one-liners amuses in a Bette Davis-lite sort of way. In the final half-hour, however, Gabrielle Zevin’s verbally agile script gets too heavy and serious, depleting pic’s modest tank of gas very quickly. Nor does it take much advantage of the big opportunity it sets up to explore the differences in sexuality at different ages: what sex means at 19 compared to 38; how desire, lust, sensuality and love between the same people contrasts over such a long gap.
Among the more interesting character insights are the woman’s observation to the man that, “Somehow I feel so much older than you,” and the general sense that the man is still immature and on-the-make, qualities deftly conveyed in Eckhart’s perf, while the woman is cynically over-mature and hung up on her age.
Director-editor Canosa and lenser Steve Yedlin keep everything moving fluidly, although it’s debatable how much the elaborately worked split-screen technique actually adds when all is said and done.