review for XX/XY on AllMovie

XX/XY (2002)
by Brian J. Dillard review

The idea of Nowhere and Splendor star Kathleen Robertson playing yet another ménage à trois participant, this time in a grown-up drama, may have given fans of the alternative ingenue pause. Indeed, distributors apparently thought XX/XY such a hard sell that the modest indie sat on the shelf for over a year before its brief theatrical run. That is a shame, for writer/director Austin Chick's solid debut is anything but an overheated Adrian Lyne epic or a belated entry in the 1990s Threesome/Three of Hearts oeuvre. Instead, it's a thoughtful and well-observed character study that, however slight, wears its wry humor well and earns its insights honestly. The early scenes, involving the chance coming together and inevitable coming apart of three artsy undergraduates in the early '90s, exhibit a wincingly unglamorous honesty about the less-than-sexy nature of collegiate sexual experimentation. The meat of the film, however, examines the retroactive emotional power that such experiences can accrue as adult responsibilities box in once-limitless possibilities. A coming-of-age saga for a class of privileged bohemians whose adolescence often extends well into middle age, XX/XY never falls back on romantic truisms as it examines the thorny ambivalence that comes with maturity. Chick's measured dialogue, elegiac tone, and subtle approach to social minutia belie his film's tiny budget and modest production values. For just one example of his script's quiet thoughtfulness, witness the shift of Robertson's character from jaded wild child to grounded wife -- perfectly believable, with no explanation necessary. Ultimately, hers is a supporting character beside Maya Stange's brittle, high-strung beauty and Mark Ruffalo's baffled, baffling man-child. All three principals, however, bring quiet power to well-crafted material that gently persuades rather than insists.