Schematic and contrived, Austin Chick’s “XX/XY” apparently aims to make some sort of statement about the problematic nature of male-female relationships, but its technical showiness and lack of credible characters make for a stifling, tedious experience indeed. Follow the lead of its title and cross this misfire off your list.
The picture is divided into “seasons,” but it actually falls into two parts, one set in 1993 and the second in the here-and-now. In the first section, we’re treated to the romantic doodlings of two (rather old-looking) Sarah Lawrence College roommates, intense Sam (Maya Stange) and flaky Thea (Kathleen Robertson). These are the sort of undergraduates, so common in movies, who never crack a book or take a test; all they’re interested in is falling in lust and getting high. In no time Sam has gotten involved with an older fellow, a scruffy would-be animator named Coles Burroughs (Mark Ruffalo). Thea, meanwhile, toys with Sid (Kel O’Neill), a straightlaced, sensitive guy who’s willing to do her classwork without doing her. But wouldn’t you know it, as things grow more serious between Coles and Sam, he proves unable to–gasp!–commit, and his wayward tendencies eventually lead to a breakup not only between them, but between Sam and Thea as well. Lurching ahead to the present, we find Coles, now a director of animated TV commercials, in a long-term relationship (though one not blessed by the confinements of marriage) with Claire (Petra Wright), a designer on his one (and only) movie. While involved in a new project making a taco spot (which allows for some all-too-easy barbs aimed at ad executives), he bumps into Sam, recently returned from England, where she’s left behind a beau; and soon they’ve reconnected with Thea, now married to restaurateur Miles (David Thornton). Predictably, the immature Coles quickly takes to Sam again–he’s never grown up or gotten over her, you see–and she’s reluctantly drawn to him as well. This leads to some soap operatic complications with Claire, a strong woman mistreated by her cad of a partner. The last sequence, set at Thea and Miles’ seaside home (where, we’re supposed to believe, one of the “in” things to do is karaoke), resolves itself in a totally unconvincing twist that settles matters (just think of it as an Anglicanus ex machina), which in turn finally compels the sadder but (perhaps) wiser Coles to come to terms with his own failings and Claire to decide whether he’s worth it.
Chick’s feeble script doesn’t bring out the best in either his direction or the acting. Especially in the first half, he resorts to all sorts of editing tricks and camera pyrotechnics in an effort to give some false edginess to material that’s essentially bland, and throughout he encourages the performers to pose and posture in an effort to fill their empty characters. Ruffalo gets the worst of it; he’s forced to shamble and shuffle about interminably, looking perpetually stricken and benumbed. He also suffers from Chick’s apparent desire to see how many shots of his bare buttocks can be squeezed into a mere ninety minutes. (The answer is: too many.) Everyone else seems affected, especially Robertson as naughty-girl Thea. At first it appears that O’Neill might add a touch of poignant realism to the proceedings, but he disappears abruptly.
There’s one wish-fulfillment moment in “XX/XY” that will certainly tickle disappointed moviegoers, as implausible as it might be. It comes at the beginning of the second half, when a boy (Evan Neuman) approaches Burroughs in New York to say that he’d paid to see his movie and hadn’t liked it, and asks for his money back. (Burroughs complies.) Unhappily, by the end of this picture you’ll wish that you could encounter Austin Chick and make a similar request of him.