The first time I saw Closer, about fifteen years ago (it was released in Brazil in 2005), I was with my then-boyfriend and another couple. Both couples had shared their own stories about cheating. Some of those stories had been resolved, others, not really. After the film was over, my boyfriend and I talked about how we could feel the tension in the air, watching the endless parade of cheating onscreen.
This clearly colored my impressions of the film, ’cause it took me fifteen years to see it in a completely different light. Now, Closer is no longer an unflinching and cruel drama about four people who don’t know how to be lucky in love to me. It’s first and foremost about straight people. And now I find it funny as hell, at least in parts.
Take the opening scene: we see a young woman walking in slow motion on a crowded street; we see a handsome man walking towards her. They manage to find each other’s gaze among the crowd. They immediately smile, that “I found the one” smile that basically only happens in movies. It’s a straight white male fantasy from head to toe: seeing this beautiful woman among the crowd, look! she notices you! Look! she fancies you she already knows you’re special! How amazing is that?
From the very beginning, Alice (played by Natalie Portman) is just that: a man’s fantasy. She gets hit by a car, and somehow the first thing she manages to do while lying on the curb is open her eyes, look straight into the handsome man’s eyes, smile, and say “Hello, stranger.” Yeah, okay, it helps that the handsome man is played by Jude Law.
Speaking of Jude Law, he is perfectly cast as a man so dashing that he’s never had a problem getting the woman he wants. He might not be successful professionally, but when he meets a woman, all he needs to do is tell some half-self-deprecating jokes and that’s it. One cut later and he’s been with this girl for a while now. The actor truly commits to the character, creating a remarkable example of a manchild who doesn’t seem to learn anything with time.
This film, by the way, handles the passage of time beautifully. No date written on the screen, no haircut changes, just a character saying from one scene to another: “It’s been one year since we’ve been having an affair.” So much for believing that time makes every relationship stronger. These characters don’t change. Most of them, at least.
Another thing Closer does wonderfully: breakup scenes. This is where these characters get truly nasty, and that is relatable to basically anyone. But it’s also when a character like Larry (Clive Owen), while confronting his wife’s betrayal, is at his straightest and starts asking for all sorts of details about the sex with her lover. Where did they do it? How often? Did she come? How often? How does his sperm taste? “Like you, but sweeter,” she answers, and that’s probably the funniest line Julia Roberts has ever delivered. I clapped.
(The thing that I said about the movie being about straight people? It is, and it’s about straight men being horrified, disgusted, destroyed, by the fact that their girlfriend slept with another man. Make it a gay couple and it’s very likely the same dialogue above would’ve been said in the most salacious way, probably leading to a threesome)
Even though this breakup is my favorite moment in the movie, I guess the most popular scene is Clive Owen visiting Natalie Portman in the strip club she’s working at. At least for the gay crowd, this sequence is heaven: not only does Portman make a cheap pink wig look amazing (probably only her and Scarlett Johansson are capable of that), but her “thank you”s every time Owen gives her some money are the most iconic “thank you”s in pop culture besides Tatianna on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s also during this scene that Portman utters a line made for Vulture articles and Panic! at the Disco songs: “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off.” (She also dances to The Smiths, if that’s your thing.)