Don’t let the relationship-centric plot fool you; Monogamy is not a chick flick. In fact, it’s one of the more interesting films I’ve seen that explores fears about committing oneself to just one person for the rest of one’s life, from a wholly male perspective.
Typically these kinds of heteronormative man-boy treatises on marriage phobia are treated with ample doses of trite and predictable humor. While Monogamy dips its toe into these well worn waters, to writer-director Dana Adam Shapiro’s credit, it never dwells there for very long. Instead, Shapiro gives the viewer nonverbal shards of Theo’s (Chris Messina) conflicted inner tumult through a dully present, self-distanced, unsteady lens. The result is a thought-provoking film.
While Shapiro stays away from Hollywood-style cliché, Monogamy is overflowing with film student-esque visual metaphor: Theo’s repeated donning of a creepy dog mask indicates that men are dogs, an engagement ring constructed from a piece of string represents how Theo’s desire to get married is hanging by a thread, and a repetitive, ambient score overlays the relationship’s tedious monotony. These ubiquitous moments caused my partner to say out loud at one point, “Alright. We get it already!” Clearly, he’d had enough.
That said, I appreciated the way Monogamy's clunky pace impressed the awkward and stilted predictability present in Theo’s and Nat’s (Rashida Jones) interactions—and the interactions of most all the married couples in the film, for that matter. The utter lack of spontaneity coupled with Nat's rejection of his sexual advances made it easy to empathize with Theo’s frustration with his fiance, despite the deep level of comfort he felt with her. So, when the mysterious, daring, and overtly sexual Subgirl (Meital Dohan) makes an entrance by masturbating in a public park as Theo consensually captures the indiscretion with his camera, you can feel Theo’s core being shaken.
The enigmatic character’s pseudonym illuminates Theo’s undoing. Subgirl is not a full person, just a partial representation of something men desire: naughty, anonymous, illicit sex. She is as tantalizing as she is elusive, and her entry into his life causes Theo to become obsessed with what marrying Nat means giving up. He takes the gains of monogamy for granted.
This provocative, if somewhat banal film, is sure to get attention for all the wrong things: its treatment of voyeurism and exhibitionism, for example. But what makes Monogamy worth the watch is what it says about male perspectives and masculinity. It’s a trip to boy’s town, that’s for sure. And one I believe is worth making.