the centre of the world(2001)
director: wayne wang
molly parker, peter sarsgaard, carla gugino

. Director Wayne Wang is critically known for movies like Slamdance, Smoke and Blue in the Face, films that donít really work, but suggest something interesting -- the epitome of independent filmmaking. His mainstream success with The Joy Luck Club doesnít seem to have tempted Wang to repeat himself, obviously, as his latest film -- shot on high definition video, the low-cost hip media for todayís credibility-concerned cineaste -- features two characters in a hotel room, gently strafing each otherís psyches in a manner familiar to anyone who lived single through their twenties. Bridget Jones it ainít.

Molly Parker and Peter Sarsgaard play two current stereotypes -- the sexy boho girl who strips for rent money, and the millionaire geek with stunted social skills. The geek, flush with dot-com riches -- alas, the film is already dated as it hits the theatres -- hires the stripper to spend a weekend with him in Las Vegas. Money exchanged for love -- or a decent facsimile -- is hardly a shocking situation, and the heartbreak that ensues is even less surprising.

As the object of desire, Parker is well cast. Strikingly slim, even featureless, Parkerís body seems computer-modelled, like a subtler cousin to Lara Croft. Sarsgaard does a good job of making the geekís thwarted desire seem sympathetic, even familiar to those who recall the tendency of young people to play games of chicken with sex and love. 

Itís a compelling film, overall, even if the outcome is obvious enough, and the self-consciously arty touches -- a properly literary explanation of the meaning of the title notable among them, perhaps courtesy writer Paul Auster -- serve to remind us that weíre watching a very carefully contrived story, one that strives mightily to capture some very specific flavour of the times. Inevitably, Wangís film only manages to appear dated. One day, years from now, it might serve as a kind of time capsule, a kitschy yet ironic souvenir of unhappy youth, at the end of the century, as imagined by their elders.