If Wicker Park is to be remembered for anything, it’s for being overly confusing in order to draw out the plot. If told in a straightforward manner, it probably would have been a decent but overly forgettable film. Our plot is presented with multiple flashbacks, often disorienting both the viewer and characters as nobody is sure exactly when everything takes place.
I’m sure of this: The story takes place over two years. Told chronologically, it begins with a man named Matthew (Josh Hartnett) seeing a woman named Lisa (Diane Kruger) on the street. He stalks her, follows her to her dance performance, and masquerades as a shoe salesman when she goes into a shoe store. It’s quite an odd introduction to his character, but it’s a nice one for hers. At the final location, when he’s trying to get her number (by claiming they can special order a shoe in her size and he’ll personally call her when it comes in), we learn that she knew he was following her, but decides to give him a chance anyway. Guys, take note: Women you stalk might be okay with it.
Some months (or maybe years) later, and Lisa has left. Or something. I’m kind of unsure at this point. She leaves for a dance thing in Europe, but for some reason (which is made clear later on), doesn’t tell Matthew. He is left constantly looking for her, which is when he meets another woman named Lisa (Rose Byrne), who lives in the apartment that Matthew thought belonged to the other Lisa. Meanwhile, Matthew’s friend, Luke (Matthew Lillard) is trying to find love as well, dating an actress named Alex. We find out exactly what’s going on before the characters do, and these revelations usually come through flashbacks.
Yes, this is one of those films where many of the scenes you see were not quite as they appeared. We see them from a different character’s perspective, and learn something new about them. Maybe one character set things in motion. Maybe coincidences were actually planned by someone. Or maybe nothing changes at all, but we extend the scene slightly which makes another scene different. Or sometimes we extend the scene, taking another character’s perspective, but it doesn’t change anything.
The latter is what happened as the film progressed. Later flashback scenes frequently seemed to tell us things we already grasped. I don’t want to give anything away before you watch Wicker Park, but it seemed to me as if this is a film that didn’t think its audience would be able to grasp some of the concepts that it brings forward.
I suspect that the reason for this is that Wicker Park is a remake of the French film L’Appartement. Without wanting to judge it before seeing it, I would wager that L’Appartement didn’t include some of the scenes in its remake, because when films are remade for American audiences, they’re often dumbed down. Otherwise, apart from the whole language thing, there’s no reason to remake them. I know that many American audiences don’t need their films dumbed down, but studios seem to think so and that’s what matters as they hold the money and the power to remake the European films.
These extra, meaningless scenes hurt the film’s pacing. Early on, these flashbacks are revealing. They are engaging because we are learning something about someone in the film every single time. When the flashbacks don’t teach us anything new, then they become tiresome instead. As a result, Wicker Park feels overlong. The characters allow it to stay interesting, and these pointless scenes only take up somewhere around five minutes, but it definitely would have been improved to exclude them from the final cut.
I forgot to mention an important point. At some point in these two years, Matthew meets a woman named Rebecca (Jessica Paré), a person he chooses to become engaged to. Most of the film takes place over a four day period where Matthew is supposed to be in China, but he stays in America instead to chase after Lisa — before meeting the other “Lisa.” So he’s kind of a bad person because he’s cheating on his fiancée, yet we can tell how deeply in love he is with Lisa so we can’t really feel bad for him.
All of the characters are kind of ambiguous in that regard. There aren’t really any “good” or “bad” characters, which is beneficial in telling an interesting story. It makes them all feel real, as none of them feel like they’re not realistic. We’re perfectly happy believing that these people exist, and this is also beneficial when it comes to how coincidental some of the film is. While the flashbacks also help eliminate this, having realistic characters means we forget how contrived many of the plot points are, as we’re more interested in seeing how the characters are involved in them than in how they’re terribly contrived.
I had quite a good time with Wicker Park. It was a little long, and had a couple of pointless scenes, but I got involved in the (sometimes confusing) story and enjoyed myself for the most part. It works because its characters are realistic and well-acted. The constant flashbacks make it a film worth talking about, but the characters are the stars that makes it memorable and worth re-watching even after the puzzle is put together for you.