Sue Kramer’s ‘Gray Matters’ (2006)

16Jan09
Heather Graham in 'Gray Matters'

Gray Matters offers a clever twist on the standard love triangle, but writer-director Sue Kramer bungles its execution with poor plotting. Coupled with a miscast lead and pointless secondary characters, the film fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.

Gray shares a close, verging on co-dependent relationship with her brother, Sam. They usually stay home in the evenings to watch movies in the apartment they share when they aren’t going to dance class with couples in their sixties. They are even mistaken for a couple from time to time. When Sam proposes to Charlie, his girlfriend of 24 hours, Gray’s worries that she won’t find love are compounded. Things only become more mixed up for Gray when Charlie gets drunk on her wedding night and they kiss right before she passes out. Charlie doesn’t seem to remember the kiss, but Gray feels both guilty for kissing her brother’s wife and confused by the feelings that the kiss brought up.

I like the premise of Gray Matters, I really do, but I would have executed it completely differently. I don’t understand why Kramer feels compelled to hurry things. Charlie is the first girl Sam sees when he and Gray try to meet people and they get engaged in less than 24 hours. Gray does three dates in one night, trying to convince herself she isn’t gay, and then almost immediately accepts her sexuality even though she spits after kissing Charlie. Tom Cavanaugh & Heather Graham in 'Gray Matters'Kramer has no need to feel rushed because many scenes could have easily been excised. Many of the early scenes attempt to be fun and cutesy to no real purpose. I think that they are trying to show Gray’s developing infatuation with Charlie, but they don’t do anything but show Gray and Charlie spending time together. They do not develop character or introduce any complexity into relationships.

The subplot involving Sissy Spacek as Gray’s therapist could have been removed completely. All she does is unceremoniously shove Gray back into the closet when Gray comes out to her. I would have much rather seen Gray dish to Molly Shannon. Alan Cumming isn’t really needed either, but I don’t mind him as much because he probably creates the weightiest character in the whole film. I would have preferred to see Kramer ditch the tired bad date montage and focus on Gordy as a legitimate love interest for Gray by making him a co-worker or something other than a cab driver who happens to pick up her twice. But really all Kramer needed in the way of characters was her love triangle and a confidante for Gray. I feel like Kramer ignores what makes her story unique when large chunks of time go by and Sam remains unseen.

I also don’t understand why Kramer decided to give Gray the rather unfunny, uninteresting, unsubtle, and unoriginal trait of being indecisive.

I wouldn’t say that I don’t like Heather Graham, but I have never been impressed by her acting. (She was OK as George Michael’s somewhat gauche, Saddam-loving ethics teacher on Arrested Development.) She never really manages to own a scene and is frequently overshadowed by other actors. Despite my many complaints about the script, I do think that there is some potential in Kramer’s dialogue. However, much of the charm and humor of the dialogue is lost in Graham’s stilted delivery. Graham also never seems very smart to me. Gray may know that Truffaut isn’t a kind of mushroom, but I’m not convinced Graham does. And based on the interviews I’ve seen of her promoting this movie, she seems as aware of LGBT issues as a paper clip. But I will give props to Graham and Bridget Moynahan for really going for it with the kiss.

Moynahan is also a bit of a disappointment in casting. She makes Charlie likable enough and she has good chemistry with both her co-stars, but she doesn’t do much with the character besides run around in lingerie. Tom Cavanagh plays Sam with a feckless charm and of the three leads he seems to have the best handle on Kramer’s material, despite his sometimes mumbled delivery. Molly Shannon is excellent as usual in this supporting role, stealing all of the scenes that she’s in. Sissy Spacek is decent though unneeded, and Rachel Shelley doesn’t stretch herself much by playing Julia as a season 2 Helena Peabody.

I do not know for certain, but I assume that Kramer is straight. According to Wikipedia, Kramer loosely based the screenplay on her sister’s life, and her portrayal of Gray definitely has an outsider feel to it. I don’t know of anyone who talked about her partner not being respected when she dies when they came out. Kramer seems to understand the political rather than personal aspects of coming out and queer identity, which translates to Gray Matters lacking a real emotional resonance.

Bridget Moynahan & Tom Cavanagh in 'Gray Matters'
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