Third Person tells three stories that are somewhat connected. In Paris, writer Michael (Liam Neeson) struggles with writing a new novel while wrestling with his relationship with his lover Hannah (Olivia Wilde). In New York, Julia (Mila Kunis) is trying to rebuild her life and gain back the right to see her son following a high profile case against her. In Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody) meets Monica, a woman who needs money in order to get her daughter back.
The tenuous connection between these stories makes up much of the intrigue behind Third Person. The stories themselves are fairly uninteresting, with much of the real meat of the narrative occurring in the past. It is unfortunate, then, that the answer to this particular mystery is just as unsatisfying. The film meanders though over two hours of its story only to end up in a really trite place. In spite of a cast of overqualified actors, the film ends up being a real bust.
The less said the better, I suppose. The film is built on a series of narrative twists, and giving any one away would probably taint the experience. Suffice it to say that none of these twists really work. The film spends too much of its time trying to obscure the truth about its characters, leading to a good solid hour where no one is really doing much of anything. The characters are kept static, their motivations left mysterious until the very end.
But the film’s real problems are structural. Its labyrinthine construction leads to a lot of dramatic dead ends. It is a challenge to keep up the emotion for one of these stories when it keeps shifting its attention. There isn’t time to really linger in the details of these stories. The film keeps itself moving aimlessly, often catching inconsequential slivers of time that barely inch the story forward. The film’s attempts to draw parallels between the three narrative threads come off as pretty clumsy and silly, in spite of all the proclaimed drama involved.
The film ends up relying on its actors to do the dramatic heavy lifting. And for a while, it works. Liam Neeson is a predictable quantity, able to weave pathos into even the silliest of roles. Olivia Wilde is particularly adept at portraying some sort of inner instability. But then there are the other stories to consider. Adrien Brody never really sells the pain that his character is meant to be going through. And Mila Kunis doesn’t seem ready to bear all that dramatic weight.
At nearly 140 minutes, Third Person more than wears out its welcome. It actively annoys the audience, holding them at arm’s length until it reaches the time when truths are revealed. It’s a terrible approach for a movie in general, but this film further burdens itself with a difficult narrative framework that makes it difficult to really invest in any one of the stories. Third Person can only play at profundity. The truth is much more boring and mundane.