Framed as a relationship-on-the-skids drama, Monogamy is instead a shallow and unconvincing look at male psychosexual pathology. Which is to say, it’s a couples drama that’s only interested in the dude, and only insomuch as he displays inconsistent bursts of obsessive behavior. Chris Messina, whose scruffy beard transforms him from his signature straight-laced heel into a Brooklyn hipster, is the man in question, a wedding photographer named Theo engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nat (Rashida Jones). His side project, as we learn in an opening sequence whose nauseous assumption of Theo’s camera’s wobbly, telephoto point of view finds its less turbulent echoes in many of director Dana Adam Shapiro’s later, eye-annihilating framings, is something called Gumshoot, a business in which clients hire him to surreptitiously photograph them going about their public lives. Although his relationship with his fiancée seems unimpeachably solid, as evidenced by the casual joking that defines successful couplings and which Messina and Jones sell with naturalistic ease, Theo is clearly having doubts because all it takes is one of his stalker-for-hire-clients to finger her pussy in public for his camera’s benefit and he’s obsessively poring over his pix, enlarging the frame over and over as if Blowup hadn’t been remade and referenced a zillion times already. Let’s just say that Shapiro isn’t exactly interested in interrogating the male gaze.
As in the Antonioni classic, there’s a mystery angle to the movie as Theo’s second assignment to film the masturbating woman finds her engaging in a sadomasochistic sexual encounter with a brutish man inside a parked car. As the photog’s attempts to engage his fiancée in his own sexual encounters keep getting frustrated, as the negative examples of monogamy pile up before him in the person of a whining married friend and a squabbling pair of newlywed clients, Theo becomes more and more obsessed with the exhibitionistic hottie, trying to track her down and ignoring his own girlfriend when she ends up in the hospital with an infected finger. Basically, the film traces its male lead through three obvious and surface-deep stages of male sexual obsession: the fanatical stalker, the irrationally jealous boyfriend, and the self-appointed protector of womankind, shifting from one to the other with little consistency, until he’s finally put in his place thanks to a lame final twist and he’s allowed to return to “normal.”
Too bad Nat is but an afterthought. Rashida Jones is astonishingly good in a rather thankless performance as the suffering girlfriend (except when she’s performing her own folk songs), rising to the occasion in a hospital bed scene in which she calmly parries Theo’s irrationally jealous accusations. That the encounter characterizes Nat as eminently sane in contrast to her boyfriend portends her virtual elimination from the narrative and, except for a later failed attempt at reconciliation, it’s Theo’s show from here on out. Which means we get little more than an unimaginative wallow in male psychosexual irrationality while at the same time being asked to share in the character’s unexamined voyeuristic urge. To say it’s been done better elsewhere is to suggest that Monogamy represents a valid if failed reiteration of classic themes, whereas the truth is that Shapiro’s film is the final world in superfluousness.