Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
I have a friend who says golf is not only better than sex, but lasts longer. The argument in “sex, lies, and videotape” is that conversation is also better than sex - more intimate, more voluptuous - and that with our minds we can do things to each other that make sex, that swapping of sweat and sentiment, seem merely troublesome. Of course, this argument is all a mind game, and sex itself, sweat and all, is the prize for the winner. That’s what makes the conversation so erotic.
The movie takes place in Baton Rouge, La., and it tells the story of four people in their early 30s whose sex lives are seriously confused. One is a lawyer named John (Peter Gallagher), who is married to Ann (Andie MacDowell) but no longer sleeps with her. Early in the film, we hear her telling her psychiatrist that this is no big problem; sex is really overrated, she thinks, compared to larger issues such as how the Earth is running out of places to dispose of its garbage. Her husband does not, however, think sex is overrated and is conducting a passionate affair with his wife’s sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who has always resented the goody-goody Ann.
An old friend turns up in town. His name is Graham (James Spader), and he was John’s college roommate. Nobody seems quite clear what he has been doing in the years since college, but he’s one of those types you don’t ask questions about things like that, because you have the feeling you don’t want to know the answers. He’s dangerous, not in a physical way, but through his insinuating intelligence, which seems to see through people.
He moves in. Makes himself at home. One day he has lunch with Ann, and they begin to flirt with their conversation, turning each other on with words carefully chosen to occupy the treacherous ground between eroticism and a proposition. She says she doesn’t think much of sex, but then he tells her something that gets her interested: He confesses that he is impotent. It is, I think, a fundamental fact of the human ego in the sexually active years that most women believe they can end a man’s impotence, just as most men believe they are heaven’s answer to a woman’s frigidity. If this were true, impotence and frigidity would not exist, but if hope did not spring eternal, not much else would spring, either.