Synopsis: Increasingly anxious about his impending marriage to Nat (Rashida Jones) and thoroughly bored with his day job as a wedding photographer, Theo (Chris Messina) establishes a hobby: he’s hired by clients to clandestinely snap voyeuristic photos of them as they go about their days. Things go smoothly until a sexy exhibitionist (Meital Dohan) leads him into an all-consuming obsession. As Theo stalks her day and night, the woman’s mysterious public trysts send him reeling, forcing him to confront uncomfortable truths about his sex life at home.
Release Date: March 11, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Monogamy is an example of a rare success: a familiar story that draws its power from simply being well-told. Theo (Chris Massina) is a wedding photographer by day but moonlights as “Gumshoot,” an alias he uses to photograph clients who hire him to document them without their knowledge. As the name implies, Theo fancies himself some kind of photorealist detective, scoping out the scene, locating the target/client and snapping away. Things get a little complicated when a client with an alias of her own, “Subgirl,” hires Theo via email to photograph her performing sex acts of escalating exhibitionism. At the same as Theo’s obsession with Subgirl is increasing, he’s drifting away from his fiance Nat (Rashida Jones). They live a comfortable artists’ existence in Brooklyn (she’s a singer/songwriter), but their ideal arrangement is threatened by Theo’s increasingly untethered artistic focus.
An artist consumed by obsession: not exactly new territory. However, director Dana Adam Shapiro strikes some novel chords with pinpoint accuracy, steering the film away from tonal pitfalls. Monogamy is neither an erotic thriller nor a romantic drama; it tows the line between mystery and character study, but unlike a typical genre film, it treats Theo and Nat’s relationship seriously.
Massina and Jones are both performers with natural humor and charisma and their inherent appeal keeps Monogamy lighter than its subject matter would suggest. Their interactions anchor the film and give it heart. They are two people who obviously love each other very much, but living as they are in a state of arrested post-hipsterdom, are reticent to commit to maturity. Theo’s self-image is intimately tied to his art and he’s not ready to retire the wandering-eye freedom Gumshoot affords him.
Director Dana Adam Shapiro comes from documentary filmmaking, including 2005’s Academy Award-nominated Murderball and the documentarian’s precise eye for detail sets Monogamy apart from similarly budgeted independent films. It is a finely observed and smartly acted first feature with a compelling visual style and well-balanced tone.
Usually the script is the single element that separates the good, the bad, and the ugly of indie films, and this is doubly true for Monogamy. Because the story of obsessive photographers and crumbling relationships is so very well worn (Blow Up, Peeping Tom, to name only two examples), the specificity of the dialogue can make or break a film of this type. Luckily, it is the relationship between Theo and Nat that makes Monogamy compelling viewing, and that success is anchored in the script’s truthful and naturalistic dialogue.
Successful, too, is the dialogue between Theo and his friends at the local bar. The locale (bar) and arrangement (two friends support/question Theo’s increasingly poor decisions) are screenwriting cliches, but Shapiro and co-writer Evan M. Weiner infuse the dialogue with enough plausibility and rhythmic naturalism that we believe Theo and his friends have a real history.
The script’s major flaw is not giving Rashida Jones enough to do. Nat is sidelined midway through the film with an injury that puts her in the hospital, which conveniently allows Theo to slip deeper into his Gumshoot identity and deflates Nat’s own storyline of performing as a singer/songwriter. Massina and Jones have wonderful chemistry and although separation and reconciliation is necessary for the story, it’s a disappointment they’re not together more during the second act.
That director Dana Adam Shapiro and cinematographer Doug Emmett have crafted a beautiful film on the paltry budget of $1 million is an accomplishment worth noting. That Monogamy highlights the seldom captured sights of Brooklyn with such ease and striking visual flare is to be commended even more. In all honestly, this film has no right to look as good as it does. The filmmakers provide some breathtaking images of night in the city, but are equally adept at daytime scenes. The voyeuristic POV shots from Theo’s camera are thrillingly conspiratorial, embedding us completely in his mindset and his worldview.
Monogamy is a film about photography and ways of seeing. Theo sees different worlds through different lenses. As a wedding photographer, he orchestrates false happiness through contrived poses. As “Gumshoot,” he feels he is capturing the reality of the situation. Shapiro and Emmett mirror the dichotomy by using handheld and tripod shots, but as the film progresses, the visual delineation between Theo’s ways of seeing becomes blurred. As assumptions are upturned, so is the cinematography, the filmmakers opting for a darker picture and wider frames with more space between the figures to underscore Nat and Theo’s emotional separation. Monogamy is a film of great visual cohesiveness and unity that brings something new to an old story.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Dana Adam ShapiroRandy ManisDana Adam Shapiro
- Producer(s): Dana Adam ShapiroEvan M. Wiener
- Screenwriter(s): Chris Messina (Theo)Rashida Jones (Nat)Meital Dohan (Subgirl)
- Story: Zak Orth (Quinny)
- Cast: Ivan Martin (Will)Madison Arnold (Mr Margolin)Sarah Burns (Ella) Mollie GoldsteinDoug EmmettTimothy Whidbee
- Cinematographer: Jamie Saft
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA