“Nina Takes a Lover” is a nicely made, very slight little trick of a love story. A meditation on the eternal question of what happens to passion over the course of a marriage, Alan Jacobs’ directorial debut displays intelligence and professional sheen, but the story lacks excitement and consequence. Commercial prospects look slim.
Told in a time-jumping manner that encompasses flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks in the guise of a journalistic investigation into marriage in the 1990s, tale charts the slow burn of an affair between Nina (Laura San Giacomo), a foxy San Francisco lady whose husband is never around, and a strikingly handsome Welsh photographer (Paul Rhys) who’s also married.
As Nina relates her story, which she insists at the outset is truly different from others,to a newspaperman (Michael O’Keefe), there are secondary glimpses of another affair, between Nina’s more reckless blond friend (Cristi Conaway) and goofy Italian Paulie (Fisher Stevens).
Most of the touches consist of lightly amusing observations about romance and adultery that are generally cute without being cloying. Neither, however, are they particularly acute or memorable, making for a wisp of a film that leaves no indelible impression save a general attractiveness and civilized sensibility.
San Giacomo has proven she can be awfully good when called upon to be tempestuous and feisty (“sex, lies, and videotape”) or funny (“Pretty Woman”), but she’s not the sort of actress who commands attention when alone onscreen and trying to be naturalistic; she needs someone else to strike sparks with. She’s onscreen by herself a great deal here, and Rhys, who’s amply magnetic, conveys a gentle nature that doesn’t bring out the zest and fire in his co-star.
For a story of a sizzling affair, in fact, director Jacobs gingerly avoids sex scenes for the longest while, and when they finally arrive, they are disappointingly genteel.
Playing a major role in drawing the viewer into the film is Todd Boekelheide’s gorgeous guitar and orchestral score. Jacobs ends up depending on it too much by the end, but the music is lovely.
Shot in S.F. and Oakland, with comfy-looking interiors, pic looks lush on what was surely a tight budget.