Like an exploration of the human psyche made for the Romance Classics channel, "Passion of Mind" is immensely sincere, extremely tasteful and downright silly. What ultimately sinks the film isn't its outlandish plot but its execution. A drama of this nature rests on the shoulders of its central actress; in this case, Demi Moore (in her first starring role since going macho in 1997's "GI Jane") lacks the emotional complexity that might make the story fly.
Moore takes on a dual role, playing two women who are linked by dreams. Marie lives in glorious isolation in France, inhabiting a funky-but-chic villa in Provence with her two daughters while writing book reviews for the New York Times on her manual typewriter. But as soon as Marie falls asleep, she awakens in an equally decked-out New York City loft as Marty, a fast-talking, stylish and relentlessly driven literary agent.
Each persona is aware of the other, and they discuss their dreams ad nauseam with their respective analysts. But since both lives are equally tangible to her, Marie-Marty can't distinguish between reality and unconscious wish fulfillment. She's stuck in a rut until romance enters the picture.
In New York, Aaron (William Fichtner), an accountant who can read more than numbers, becomes enamored with Marty and the fragility he sees beneath her tough exterior. In France, Marie is charmed by William (Stellan Skarsgård), a novelist whose last book received a scathing review from her. The appearance of these two men -- and the demands they place on her -- serve as the impetus to determine the truth behind her dual existence.
Buried somewhere in this convoluted, sappy tale is a commentary about the choices women are still expected to make: Should Marie-Marty be a selfish individualist who wholeheartedly pursues a career, or a selfless caregiver and nurturing, full-time mother? Ron Bass, Hollywood's designated female-friendly screenwriter ("Waiting to Exhale," "The Joy Luck Club"), tries to explore the superwoman syndrome and winds up with unconvincing psychobabble instead, while director Alain Berliner ("Ma Vie en Rose") seems more interested in swooping shots of beautiful locales than in expressing the complicated interior life of his heroine.
Demi Moore's limited range ensures that her character's state of mind is expressed primarily via hair and costume changes. But counterbalancing "Passion of Mind's" flightiness are grounded performances by the two superb character actors cast as its twin romantic leads. Skarsgård ("Breaking the Waves") and Fichtner ("Albino Alligator") aren't conventionally handsome, but both have intelligence and intensity to burn, and bring genuine passion to a film that can otherwise only imagine what that emotion might be like.
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