“I used to be younger.”
While comparing histories with another woman, Catherine Stewart says this not defensively, but in a lingering, reminiscent manner. Age is creeping over Catherine. All of her attempts to grasp at control leave her empty or frustrated.
A prominent gynecologist, Catherine stares down from her office window at an attractive woman leaving a club, getting into a taxi with an older man. The young, sleek, attractive faces from a neighboring billboard seem to gaze up at Catherine in a taunting fashion. She spends her days clinically examining the bodies of other women, listening to their problems and prescribing remedies. When she is in her sumptuous home, she stares into the mirror at her freshly scrubbed face, and age is all that’s left for her. The reminders are everywhere. And her husband David’s “kindnesses” to other women – the smiles and polite, intimate conversations – don’t help her outlook.
In Chloe, Catherine is played by Julianne Moore, an actress who is roughly the same age as the character, and Moore’s rawness when displaying reactions to age, desire and regret are stunning. It doesn’t hurt that, at an age when women rarely get nude or sexually-provocative scenes in films, she can seem alternately tentative and enticing, and generate substantial heat on screen.
After a missed flight, David doesn’t make it to the surprise birthday party Catherine has slaved to pull together, and he fails to see the disappointment in her face. I don’t like parties, he tells her, but it’s little comfort to Catherine. Assuming David has begun an affair with a student, she meets with Chloe, the gorgeous, young woman she watched get into that taxi. She poses a business proposition: cross paths with David, flirt, and see if he reacts. What follows is Catherine’s slow deterioration as Chloe relays the events of each torrid encounter with David, and the subsequent connection that builds between the two women.
Director Atom Egoyan leans toward darker, troubling examinations of isolation in his films. Only the lurid mystery Where the Truth Lies comes close to the sort of mainstream melodrama at play here. Chloe feels like a perfectly honest, sexually-charged story that only trips up at the very end, when it makes a wrong-headed shift in tone to something too predictable and wholly unnecessary given all that has come before it.
Catherine seems set apart from everything around her: her husband is distant, her son treats her like an annoyance, her friends are catty, awful stereotypes that belong in another film, and the lack of that former sexual self has made her a prisoner inside her own freckled skin. Egoyan does a nice job of handling the subtle complexities of his main female characters.
As Chloe, Amanda Seyfried is everything a father or son could want in a sexual fantasy. The film opens with her explanation that, in her line of work, all she needs to know is what the customer wants to hear. But talk is hardly the sum-total of her job skills. Seyfried is beautiful, and her shapely figure is displayed at regular intervals in Chloe. Yet it is her massive eyes that often seal the deal, only betraying her when the story skews toward something far more unhinged.
For engaging melodrama, intense and frank (yet mature) sexuality, and the performances of Moore and Seyfried, Chloe is worth seeing; just pretend it stops about ten minutes early.