The party's over

XX/XY waits too long to grow up

XX/XY begins at Sarah Lawrence College in 1993, back when video cameras were the size of toddlers and portable phones were monstrous baguette-sized contraptions.

Thea (Kathleen Robertson) and Sam (Maya Stange) are two party-hearty Sarah Lawrence coeds whose idea of a good time is fellating a popsicle — until hunky aspiring filmmaker Coles (Mark Ruffalo) lands in their bed for a menage a almost.

The hot sex doesn't go exactly as planned, with the menage collapsing mid-stroke. But Sam and Coles eventually pare their relationship down to a traditional twosome. As their relationship blossoms, Thea is left sulking on the perimeter, floundering unhappily with a succession of other lovers.

Though Sam and Coles' relationship begins with some hot-and-heavy experimentation, they are soon quibbling over fairly traditional matters. Coles fucks someone else. Sam retaliates by fucking someone else. So Coles fucks someone else. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The scenario of escalating two-timing is nearly as tedious as the actual overwrought theatrics of undergraduate love affairs.

The college scenes are among the worst in XX/XY because first-time director Austin Chick seems to think the "extreme" predilections of coke-snorting, club-hopping and sexual experimentation fill the void left by an undernourished plot. Believable dialogue and something other than embarrassingly corny moments of the trio dancing in the streets of NYC a la Fame would have served the film more effectively.

XX/XY often has the feel of a cool kid's East Village retread of St. Elmo's Fire where the reckless fun of college is contrasted with the wake-up call of real life. Thea especially steals a page from Demi Moore's acting primer as a self-destructive glamour girl.

Ten years later, after Sam and Coles' breakup, all three end up in Manhattan. After bumping into Sam on the street, Coles finds his love rekindled despite the fact that he is living with a lovely but bland woman who can't get him to commit to their relationship. Thea, who has married a rich restaurateur, and Sam, who's just returned from London, reunite with Coles who is once again at Chick's dramatic epicenter.

Coles has traded his dream of filmmaking for the reality of working at an ad agency where he creates animation for fast food commercials. But Chick is anxious to show that despite being in bed with "the man," Coles is still an iconoclast — a real artist disgusted with working in the trenches of commerce.

Ruffalo proved his acting mettle as a similarly frustrated guy in You Can Count On Me, but there he was supported by a fine script and richly drawn characters. Despite the fact that he is the most attentively detailed of the three leads, Ruffalo spends the entire film waiting in vain for a moment of genuine truthfulness and some sense of purpose beyond a fairly routine effort to win his old girlfriend back. It is a tribute to Stange and Robertson that, at times, they manage to do something with the anemic little parts Chick has given them. Because the storyline focuses on their better coping strategies, the women are more compelling as people with feelings and tensions and disappointments. For too large a portion of XX/XY, it's unclear just what Coles wants.

XX/XY's real stab at Meaning doesn't begin until the film's second half, by which time the party feels over. A film about the necessity of growing up could have profited from its own advice. Had Chick found a way to complicate the superficial partying antics earlier, he might have established characters we could truly care about by the time their genuine troubles settle in.


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