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Consenting Adults
(1992)

Director: Alan J. Pakula
Cast:
Kevin Kline, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Kevin Spacey


There are some things that while I can't be one hundred percent certain will never happen - no one can predict the future with complete confidence - I am all the same pretty much convinced will never happen. One thing I'm pretty much certain will never happen is that the Canadian government will never get its head out of its butt and force Canadian filmmakers to make movies that people will actually want to watch (as well as force Canadian movie distributors to actually show some marketing muscle when it comes to releasing these movies.) But most of all, the one thing I (presently) feel deep down that will never happen is that I will get married and settle down. There are a number of reasons why I presently feel that way, but I will just name the three main reasons why. The first reason is money - I would probably have to find another job that has longer hours and pays a lot better per hour than the job I currently have in order. I find the idea of that very unappealing, especially since I like my present job and it gives me enough time out of work to do whatever I want. The second reason why I doubt that I will ever get married is the inevitable loss of freedom marriage brings. At present, I like having the choice of doing whatever I want whenever I want to. Being married, I would have a lot less opportunity to do things on my terms alone. The third reason the idea of me being married is unappealing is the chance of having kids. My wife would probably want kids, something that I absolutely would not want. Looking back, I remember being a handful to my parents a lot of times even though I was far from being a juvenile delinquent. I can't imagine myself having the patience to raise a child for eighteen years (nineteen in some Canadian provinces.)

So as you can see, as of this publication date, I have a feeling I will never settle down and get married. With my frame of mind, I would probably be a lousy husband to my wife anyway. But even though I don't think I'm a prospect to be a husband, all the same I have made many observations about various relationships over the years, enough to make me understand what is needed to maintain a marriage. For the most part anyway - there are some kind of relationships I haven't been able to understand. Some of them are with famous people, one example being the relationship Bo Derek had with her husband John Derek. As you probably know, John Derek directed his wife Bo in a number of soft core movies where she was both naked and in sexual situations with various men. I could never understand that - if I were married to a gorgeous woman, I would want her sexual side to be all mine alone and not share it with other people. For that matter, I wouldn't want to make my wife angry by acting in sex scenes with other women. On the other hand, Bo and John were married for almost twenty-two years before he passed away, so it could be argued that they had a strong relationship despite what Bo showed in front of the camera. Another thing some couples have done that I haven't been able to understand is the practice of changing partners for a short time. Even if everybody in the exchange is agreeable to the idea, to me the idea of partner exchanging indicates all the people in the exchange are not taking their marriage vows seriously. I think the whole "for better or for worse" philosophy has some genuine merit.

I'll tell you one personal experience I had to the whole partner-swapping idea that I haven't told anyone before. I once met a man my age at a club who invited me to his home for dinner. During dinner with the man and his wife, he brought up the subject that he couldn't keep up with his wife's Consenting Adultssexual demands and that he was looking for a lover for his wife. Though he didn't directly ask me, I knew what he was trying to convince me to do. I did my best to politely change the subject, and fortunately after leaving the man's home I never saw him again. The whole experience did, however, raise my curiosity as to why some married couples do change partners despite their marriage vows. So when I came across the Blu-Ray for Consenting Adults recently, I wondered if it would give me some insight. Though to be honest, my hopes weren't up - I saw it had been made by Hollywood Pictures. During its run, Hollywood insiders had a saying concerning their product: "If it's from the sphinx, it stinks." (The studio used a picture of a sphinx as its logo.) But all the same, I slipped the disc into my Blu-Ray player and watched it. Consenting Adults focuses on two married couples. There are the Parkers, consisting of the happily married suburban couple of Richard (Kline, Dave) and Priscilla (Mastrantonio, Scarface). The second couple consist of Eddy (Spacey, Se7ven) and Kay Otis (Rebecca Miller, Regarding Henry), who move into the same neighborhood that the Parkers live in. The two couples shortly after meet, and even though the Parkers soon find out that Eddy is a kind of con artist, they become friends. So friendly, that one day Eddy proposes to Richard that they spruce up their sex lives by exchanging wives for one evening. Eventually, Richard agrees... but does not know that what will follow will land him in much more trouble than he could possibly imagine.

Consenting Adults was released at a time when the "erotic thriller" genre was at its peak of popularity, a genre made famous by big screen efforts like Basic Instinct and direct to video efforts like the Night Eyes series. Now that I've mentioned that fact, I am sure that your first question about Consenting Adults is how "hot" the movie manages to get, especially when you consider that Hollywood Pictures was an offshoot of the Disney corporation. Well, if Uncle Walt had been thawed out and watched the movie, more likely than not he would have said something like, "Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse generate a lot more eroticism than this movie!" Yes, despite the movie having the title Consenting Adults, and having a poster and video box art that suggests some serious steamy moments, the movie is not very erotic at all. For starters, there are only two scenes of sexual material in the entire movie. Making matters worse is that neither of those two scenes is anywhere near arousing. In the first scene, consisting of Richard looking out his window and seeing Kay next door naked in her bathtub, director Pakula (All The President's Men) can't seem to build any erotic voyeur feelings. The distance and the awkward camera angle certainly hurt things, but there is also a strange matter-of-fact feeling to the entire scene instead of feelings like temptation or getting into dangerous territory. The second sequence, where Richard enters the Otis' bedroom for his tryst with Kay is also a letdown, but for different reasons. I admit that I am not an expert with eroticism, but I can tell you with certainty that the sight of Kevin Kline's naked butt is something that I am sure not even desperate spinsters would find the least bit arousing.

Speaking of Kevin Kline, as I was watching Consenting Adults I started to wonder what attracted him to this particular role. Although Kline had won an Academy Award four years earlier, there's really nothing terribly special about the character of Richard Parker. For the most part, the character is kind of a wimp. Oh, the character occasionally shows a little backbone here and there, but when it comes out it more often than not seems way out of character, like in the violent climax. Richard seems like a somewhat stunned passenger through most of the movie, and Kline can't seem to do much with that for the most part. Occasionally Kline does add a little spark, like his effective understated feelings of regret the next morning after his tryst. But for the most part, the character would be too bland for any actor, no matter how talented. As for the rest of the cast and their characters, the results are mixed. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has an even weaker role than Kline does; we learn very little about her character or her thoughts and feelings. Her performance isn't terrible, but it could have been matched by many actresses. Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland) has a somewhat meaty role as an insurance investigator who gets tangled in the mess. It's not a big role, but the character is much less stereotypical than you usually get in movies like this, and Whitaker manages to take this interesting character and give him extra life with his performance. As for Kevin Spacey, his performance does have some effective energy at times. In his opening scenes, he manages the delicate balance of coming across as aggressive but all the same having enough charm so that you can understand why people would be attractive enough to become friends with him. You definitely believe this is a guy who knows what to do and to get ahead in life.

However, while I believed this side of Spacey's character, eventually there became a side to this character that I found hard to swallow. (Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.) It turns out that Spacey's character has ulterior motives for wanting to do some wife swapping, which eventually leaves Kline's character in serious hot water. Bit by bit, as we learn what Spacey had been planning for such a long time and everything he had to do in order to pull it off (as well as what he also subsequently does to make sure that he doesn't get into trouble later), it all eventually becomes so convoluted that I simply could not get invested in the story and the characters. It also helped that the movie in its first half gives out some blatant clues that had me correctly guessing what was going to eventually happen. The screenplay by Matthew Chapman (who two years later wrote the even worse erotic thriller Color Of Night) certainly could have used a lot more work, but the movie's story is also made to be unsatisfying by Pakula's direction. Pakula doesn't just blow it with the movie's limited eroticism, but by the movie tone outside of those two aforementioned scenes. The first half or so of the movie plays out in a really calm and slow fashion. That wouldn't be so bad had, when the screws started to suddenly tighten for the character of Richard, the second half of the movie had unfolded with a lot more juice. The sudden change in tone could have really hit the audience hard. But except for two or three (brief) moments of tension, the second half of the movie is just as sedate as the first half. You never sense that Richard is in trouble, fighting for his family or for his life. Because of that, I simply could not care about either Richard or his predicament. And because of that, I didn't care for Consenting Adults for the most part. Most likely you too will feel the same way, unless you want to find out why Disney eventually abandoned their Hollywood Pictures division.

(Posted April 9, 2021)

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See also: The Tamarind Seed, Teenage Mother, Ulterior Motives

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