Thursday Night Movie Club
Wicker Park
star rating graphicstar rating graphic½
Release Date: September 3, 2004

Director: Paul McGuigan
Josh Hartnett
Rose Byrne
Matthew Lillard
Diane Kruger
Christopher Cousins
Jessica Paré
Vlasta Vrana
Amy Sobol
Ted Whittall
Isabel Dos Santos
Joanna Noyes
Kerrilyn Keith
Mark Camacho
Marcel Jeannin
Stéfanie Buxton
Chamber Maid
Female Customer
Theater Director
Ticket Agent
Wicker Park movie poster
Upon further thinking, I am dropping a half star on this review. Wicker Park is just not as good as I originally thought. It's not bad but it just falls short of being really good, which I think it should have been.

Maybe Josh Hartnett is not good enough of an actor to carry this movie. This is Matthew's story and Hartnett just doesn't seem capable of playing the character. He doesn't come off as smart and talented as he is supposed to be.

Wicker Park emulates Memento or a Quentin Tarantino film in its storytelling, but director Paul McGuigan or the writers don't seem up to the task at hand.

Wicker Park is told through a series of flashbacks. This isn't a bad form of storytelling, but the audience has to be aware of every little nuance in the current time frame to catch the subtleties of the flashbacks. The first flashback isn't depicted well enough for the audience to know it is a flashback.

Matthew is an up-and-coming executive in an unnamed company doing an unnamed job. He is about to embark on a trip to China to seal a very important deal. This will get him in very good standing with his company. It doesn't help matters that he is thinking of becoming engages to the company President's daughter. Matthew is clearly edgy during a luncheon with his Chinese counterparts. He breaks tradition by drinking his toast before the toast is even made.

Matthew leaves the table with the excuse that he has to make a phone call. Who he's calling is a mystery! His brand new cell phone doesn't get a signal in one of the classiest restaurant in Chicago and he has to use the payphone. Go figure! Do pay phones still exist in the current world? This is the problem here: the opening scene leaves way too many questions open that just never get answered. These maneuvers are all setup and don't explain the character.

Matthew then finds the pay phone is occupied. While waiting, he steps into the men's room. While there, he overhears the conversation coming from the pay phone booth. Something is mentioned that set Matthew on a new journey in life. This happens so quickly that the point is missed from the audience's perspective. Matthew rushes from the men's room and watches a woman quickly leave the restaurant. Mesmerized for some unknown reason, he backtracks her steps and finds her hotel room key. He goes to the hotel in search of the strange woman and promptly breaks into her room.

Here comes the major plot twist and the problem with this movie: once in the girl's room, he finds a compact. While there, he suddenly becomes tired and falls asleep. It is plain from this scene that Matthew will not make his business trip to China. Now comes the first of many flashback scenes. The problem: we suddenly find Matthew working in a video store repairing equipment. Is this a flashback or is this a jump to the future after he gets fired from his job by missing his China trip? This is extremely bad storytelling.

However, the rest of the movie is actually quite good as we find out exactly what happened. Chance encounters from this first scene are not as happenstance as they appear. Everything that happened in the opening scene are revealed in a new light. Even the first innocent flashback scene is revealed to be not what it originally seemed to be. This is an interesting plot device.

Matthew follows the girl. He eventually finds out where she lives and once again breaks into her home. The guy is making a nasty habit out of this. He finally confronts the girl only to discover she is not the girl he thinks he is looking for. A burgeoning relationship begins between the two strangers.

The result is a convoluted mystery where Matthew is partly right and partly wrong. A love triangle and more develops from Matthew's obsession. Another problem is that the movie is so vague in its opening sequence that it takes too long to determine just what Matthew is doing/looking for.

Eventually, and I do mean eventually, I (being the audience) learns that Matthew overheard the name "Lisa" while listening in on the conversation in the men's room at the beginning. He thinks that the girl is a long-lost love of his. He wants to discover if this is the girl he once was madly in love with, but through dire circumstances, their relationship ended. The circumstances become a love triangle/quadrangle.. Confused yet? Actually, this convoluted tale is retold almost methodically, like Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery, rather than a love story reaching its natural conclusion.

Matthew Lillard as Luke is very good providing the comic relief and the loveable loser that Chicago is known for. But he plays his character as a slightly more normal version of his Shaggy persona from the Scooby-Do movies. Neither of the female leads (Rose and Byrne) bring anything special here. So it is up to Hartnett to carry the film. Unfortunately, he's about as engaging as a lead actor as Kevin Costner.

Much of the movie was shot in Ontario. Even one-time visitors to Chicago will know there are no hotdog stands in the city that look even remotely like the one in the park that plays such a critical part of the movie. This is Matthew and Lisa's meeting place. You'd think that visiting this park so often, both of them would be on a first-name basis with the proprietor of the stand. You'd think and you'd be wrong for this movie.

And I guess that is why I dropped a half star in my rating.. so many things play out in this movie that are wrong for how the real world would be. People just don't do the simple things just so the plot can add suspense. The movie does not invoke a Chicagoan world view. This movie could have taken place in genericville.

Wicker Park is an O. K. date film but it is not the classic it tried to be. Too bad!