Modern Romance Screen 5 articles

Modern Romance

1981

Modern Romance Poster
  • They marry, they divorce, they get back together: isn’t that the message of Eternal Sunshine... But whereas in Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s masterpiece the sentiment is reassuring, in Modern Romance it feels cynical, a cheap gag. This isn’t necessarily the criticism it might sound like, but I think it has something to do with the fact that... the conclusion of Brooks’ film seems to punish Mary. Bob smothers, persuades, conquers: ad infinitum.

  • Brooks — twice as butch as Woody Allen but just as neurotic, and, for this viewer, often as exasperating — commands much more screen time than Kathryn Harrold, as Mary, Robert’s on-again, off-again bank executive girlfriend. She’s missed when she’s not around. But I salute Brooks, who wholly embraces his extravagantly insecure and self-obsessed character, for taking jealousy to astonishing new heights (or depths).

  • Brooks’ second feature, Modern Romance, is his best—a Los Angeles-set comedy about the relationship between a B-movie editor and his on-and-off girlfriend. A master class in controlled pacing (it was one of Stanley Kubrick’s favorite films, and an acknowledged influence on Eyes Wide Shut), it consists mostly of lengthy scenes in which tension and social awkwardness build until they become both unbearable and deeply funny.

  • Spending ninety minutes in the presence of this unflinching manchild and his hapless victim is akin to rubbernecking on the 405, hoping to spot a body bag. Like its companionate programs, Modern Romance swaps slavish devotion for an odious bouquet of physical comedy, sexual jealousy, and not-so-borderline emotional abuse.

  • Brooks supports this unblinking gaze with an aesthetic that prizes long takes, wide and medium shots, and utmost realism, keeping us close to this character even as it refuses to indicate to us how we should feel about him. Robert Cole may be a neurotic monster in some ways, but one of Brooks’s great achievements in Modern Romance is to make him feel all-too-human in his failings.