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Brotherly Love

Ed Burns returns to the subject of sex and sibling rivalry

Burns caught heat from some critics for supposedly depicting female characters as unreasonably passive in The Brothers McMullen. This, I think, was an unfair slam -- the women in that particular world were true to their own natures, not to some politically correct ideal -- but it may have been what Burns needed to nudge him into giving the women in She's the One a bit more depth. At first glance, Heather seems to be nothing more than the personification of a male fantasy. Gradually, however, Heather reveals just how fully she remains in control while practicing her art as sexual predator. And she makes no apologies for herself, not even when Mickey huffily insists that working as a cabdriver is several steps above her former occupation. Heather's hard-bitten response, which should remain a surprise, is one of the funniest lines in the film. Cameron Diaz gives a strong, sexy performance as Heather, with just enough ambiguity around the edges to suggest there's a lot more going on with this character than what meets the eye.

As Renee, Jennifer Aniston is sweetly amusing, but not cloying. She is particularly good in those scenes where Renee retains some sense of dignity and self-worth even as she tries to reawaken her husband's slumbering libido. When Renee finally turns to her vibrator, it seems more like a statement of independence than a sign of weakness.

Maxine Bahns -- who, not incidentally, is Burns' real-life significant other -- is extremely appealing as Hope, a character very similar to the one she portrayed in The Brothers McMullen. It may turn out that she doesn't have much range as an actress. But she is very effective in the role of a free spirit who isn't entirely devoid of selfishness. Hope intends to move to Paris to attend graduate school, something she neglects to tell Mickey for as long as possible. It's never clear what she expects him to do in France if he accompanies her. (Drive a cab, maybe?) It is clear, however, that love will not be enough to keep her from going.

On a technical level, She's the One marks a quantum leap forward for Burns as a filmmaker. This time, he has the benefit of a considerably larger budget, and that likely inspired a fair degree of self-confidence. With a casualness that is no doubt more apparent than real, he tosses off a series of panning shots to illustrate the passing of a rumor from brother to father, father to son, then brother to brother. The cleverness of the technique is impressive, but not so much that it distracts from the wit of the writing.

As Mickey, Burns evidences an easygoing charm and a blunt-spoken self-assurance. He, too, may be seriously limited as an actor, but that will never work against him as long as he writes such terrific roles for himself. He has written a far less charismatic character for Mike McGlone, another Brothers McMullen alumnus, to play. But that's okay: McGlone is fearless in his refusal to make Francis more conventionally sympathetic and less willfully self-delusional. John Mahoney is gruffly hilarious as Francis and Mickey's father, a retired firefighter whose attempts to offer sagacious life lessons are about as successful as the title character's matchmaking efforts in Emma. With Mr. Fitzpatrick as their role model and font of wisdom, it's a miracle that these boys have had any luck in love at all.

She's the One.
Directed by Ed Burns. With Jennifer Aniston, Maxine Bahns, Ed Burns, Cameron Diaz, John Mahoney and Mike McGlone.

Rated R.
97 minutes.

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