Heather Graham keeps looking for love (and roles) in all the wrong places.

James Plath's picture

With a title like "Gray Matters"--an allusion to the brain--you'd expect a romantic comedy to be intelligent, or at least clever in some way. But this entry from first-time feature writer-director Sue Kramer cover such familiar ground and in such a routine manner that you feel as if you've just ridden on the Tunnel of Love. Even the twist feels familiar.

Heather Graham keeps looking for love (and roles) in all the wrong places. In "Say It Isn't So" she found herself in love with her brother. This time (say it isn't so!) she falls for her brother's fiancé. Unique, huh?

How does this happen, you ask? Curiously, in fact--because the opening sequences suggest she's in love with her brother again. The two of them share an apartment in Manhattan, they're ballroom dance partners, they gush in public and finish each other's sentences like old marrieds, and their friends assume they're a couple--a copulating couple. "Ewwww," they both say, and resolve to find each other the perfect someone.

So how is it that nobody seems to suspect that Gray Baldwin (Graham) is either bi- or gay? After all, we're not talking about a teenager here. She's a thirtysomething woman! If her brother, Sam (Thomas Cavanagh) is a doctor, you'd think he'd have some clue. But apparently it's just lying there dormant until Gray approaches a woman in a park who's walking a dog. She's perfect for her brother, she thinks, and so Gray invites her to go out with the two of them (uh, if she's trying to set her brother up, why would the date be a threesome?). After one drunken evening of "connecting," Sam pops the question and we're all left trying to figure out the answer as they all head for Vegas, with Gray slated to be the witness. But she convinces Sam that he can't see the bride the night before the wedding, which conveniently leaves just Gray and Charlie (Bridget Moynahan) to pal around, get drunk, and plant hetero-fantasy lesbian kisses on each other.

Mysteriously, although they're both equally wasted (and we have no idea what poor Sam was up to all by himself), only Gray has any memory of their sexual encounter, and it sparks an "Am I gay?" dilemma. But "Gray Matters" feels so dull and routine that it's hard to care one way or another about her sexual orientation or even the characters, for that matter. That's too bad, really, because the film began with such promise--albeit misleading promise. With a title-sequence showing clips of New York intercut with a scene showing brother and sister dancing like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to "Cheek to Cheek," you expect a Woody Allen-style homage to New York and New Yorkers in love, lust, or some vague netherworld in between. Instead, you get a simple triangle farce with an unconvincing sexual disorientation twist. There's nothing to be learned here about human nature or the human condition, and no sense, really, of these characters being real. They seem characters and contrivances rather than flesh-and-blood people you may have seen in real life.

Though the stars do a decent job with limp material, there's really nothing charismatic happening among them, which only adds to the blandness. As for the minor characters, they're annoyingly stock. Sissy Spacek plays a therapist who insists on conducting sessions while doing such active things as bowling. Okay, that's a nice twist, but why must there always be a therapist? New York is full of possible confidantes, and Alan Cumming (a.k.a. "Floop" from the "Spy Kids" trilogy) has more potential as a nosy cab driver. Ultimately, the script is too facile and contrived for any of it to be believed.

"Gray Matters" is a dual-sided disc, with Side A a full-frame (1.33:1) presentation and Side B widescreen (1.78:1). Though it doesn't appear to be mastered in HD, the picture quality is still very good. There's a slight graininess throughout, but the colors are strong and vivid.

The soundtrack is a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, with subtitles in English and Spanish. At times the sound seems a little hollow or faraway--not muffled, just slightly unnatural. For the most part, though, there's a good timbre and bass/treble balance.

Not counting the theatrical trailer, there's just one short "making of" feature, which, like the film itself, is only so-so at best, with more telling what the film is "about" (as if it's so deep we need help understanding) than behind-the-scenes anecdotes or Film 101 tips.

Bottom Line:
"Gray Matters" played mostly festivals and opened on just 15 screens. And cruel as it sounds, I'm not sure that this film deserved a wider audience. It feels more made-for-DVD than it does an indie film, and it unfortunately doesn't add a thing to the genre.


Film Value