If it were up to Frances Fisher, “Laws of Attraction” might just become the sophisticated romantic comedy it so desperately yearns to be.
She plays Sara, the gloriously vain mother of the heroine, Audrey Miller (Julianne Moore), a divorce lawyer who cultivates her allergy to marriage as well as men. Sara, unlike her excessively professional daughter, has a taste for rock music, much younger men and plastic surgery.
“Are you really 56?” asks Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan), another divorce lawyer who has just married Audrey.
“Parts of me are,” purrs Sara, who prefers that Audrey not call her “mom” in public.
Fisher runs away with the best lines in the movie, and in the process she creates the only fully realized character. Alas, she’s not on-screen long enough, and she’s rarely around when the contrived script by Aline Brosh McKenna (“Three to Tango”) and Robert Harling (“Steel Magnolias”) is strenuously jumping through hoops to push Daniel and Audrey together.
If only they and director Peter Howitt (“Sliding Doors”) weren’t trying so hard, perhaps “Laws of Attraction” might have a chance. But Moore doesn’t appear to have Fisher’s instinct for farce, and neither does Brosnan, who doesn’t generate enough heat with Moore to make their relationship worth the bother.
Even harder to buy are Parker Posey and Michael Sheen as Serena and Thorne Jamison, the divorcing couple they’re representing. He’s a promiscous rock star with spikey hair and dark eye makeup; she’s his wandering wife of seven years. Audrey is defending Thorne, Daniel is working for Serena, and they’re all in love with the Irish castle that both Serena and Thorne claim as their own.
(Brosnan, who was born in Ireland and co-produced the movie, may have had something to do with the travelogue-ish, heavily romanticized nature of the Irish scenes, which play like lost episodes from “Brigadoon.”)
The setup is not unlike the classic Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn comedy, “Adam’s Rib,” in which Tracy and Hepburn played lawyers, married to each other, who find themselves on opposite sides of the same case. But the courtroom scenes, in which a sarcastic judge (Nora Dunn) provides a running commentary on the flamboyant excesses of Thorne, Serena, Audrey and Daniel, aim at screwball-comedy mayhem and fail utterly to convince or amuse.
More successful are the “meet cute” scenes that bring Audrey and Daniel together — especially their first encounters, in which she arrogantly underestimates him, and he toys with her inability to see that he’s running circles around her. They’re both minor-league celebrities who are accustomed to being interviewed on television, and there’s a hilarious extended sequence in which they use code words and the media to continue their courtship in a carelessly public way.
In moments like these (and whenever Fisher turns up), you get a sense of what “Laws of Attraction” could be. Too bad the rest of it is so far off the mark.