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Sitcommy ‘Gray Matters’ feels forced

Film aims to be a screwball comedy but misses the mark in a big way. By Christy Lemire
/ Source: The Associated Press

If you’ve heard of “Gray Matters” at all, it’s probably because of its hyped-up girl-girl kiss between Heather Graham and Bridget Moynahan.

And it is hot — probably the best scene in a movie that’s otherwise sitcommy, forced and forgettable.

The always radiant Graham and Tom Cavanagh play sister and brother Gray and Sam, who both fall for the same woman in this homage to 1940s screwball comedies. The debut feature from writer-director Sue Kramer is crammed with quick banter, elaborate dance sequences and cutaways to the glittering Manhattan skyline. (And the clothes are fun, all romantic dresses and classically tailored suits.)

Trouble is, Kramer couldn’t quite concoct the chemistry that made those movies so great, though Graham and Moynahan have a bit more than Cavanagh and Moynahan do. Graham and Cavanagh, as the siblings who are so close that people frequently mistake them for lovers, merely talk over each other rapidly.

But aside from Gray’s anguish over coming out (or whether she’s actually gay in the first place), very little is believable about these people. Alan Cumming has a couple of cute scenes as the cab driver who’s secretly in love with Graham and Molly Shannon gets a few good lines as her co-worker, but Sissy Spacek goes to waste as the ditzy therapist who gives her clients advice while bowling or rock climbing. (Off screen, she’s a longtime friend of the filmmaker.)

Gray has been seeing a therapist for a while now about her frustrated work and love lives. She likens herself to a hotel that’s beautiful on the outside but empty on the inside; Spacek’s Dr. Sydney thinks she should be open for business, or at least drinks on the verandah, in a protracted metaphor.

But then Gray (who’s in advertising) and Sam (an up-and-coming heart surgeon) meet Moynahan’s Charlie at Central Park — with cute dogs in tow, no less.

Soon all three of them are going out for tapas, drinks and all-night dancing. And within 24 hours of meeting Charlie, Sam asks her to marry him. Seriously.

Gray is shocked (who wouldn’t be?) but she’s also jealous. The quickie wedding Sam and Charlie have planned in Las Vegas, with Gray as their witness, sets up plenty of drunken antics and pratfalls. And as if “Gray Matters” weren’t gay enough, it also trots out Gloria Gaynor to sing (what else?) her disco anthem, “I Will Survive,” on stage with Gray and Charlie. Yes, they sing nearly the entire song, and yes, it feels like awkward filler. (It was a great female empowerment tune in its day, but by now it’s been way overplayed, especially in movies.)

The Vegas trip also leads to the champagne-and-shot-fueled smooch between Charlie and Gray, which doesn’t seem to bother Charlie (she passes out soon afterward). But for Gray, a typically neurotic romantic comedy heroine despite her atypical sexual orientation, this is yet another source of anxiety. Ordering a hot dog from a corner stand is complicated enough for her. This calls for serious pacing and fretting.

But the analysis she goes through happens to be the most meaningful element of “Gray Matters” — Kramer has said her sister was the inspiration behind the story, and the fact that it’s so personal is evident. That’s why it’s too bad that the moment Gray does come out — whether she was ready to do it or not — feels unshakably like something you saw Ellen DeGeneres do a decade ago.