Sam (Matthew Broderick) watches his girlfriend Linda (Kelly Preston) leave for a work assignment in New York, confident that this temporary separation will only make them miss each other more. But you know by the stinging blast of "Walk Away Renee" that rings out as her plane leaves the tarmac that he's kidding himself - a Dear John letter is forthcoming. Sam won't leave it at that. He flies to New York, finds Linda's address - and discovers that she's moved in with a French restaurateur (Tcheky Karyo).
So he does what countless jilted lovers before him have only fantasised about doing: he sets up a base camp in a derelict building across the street, and starts spying on the sweethearts and devising schemes to break them up. Which is when he meets Maggie (Meg Ryan). She wears purple eye shadow and screams around the city on a motorbike, so she's clearly not here as the love interest. She wants revenge on the same couple - her ex is living with his ex. Small world.
One of the most surprising things about Addicted to Love is that it should feature Meg Ryan's first good performance. Until now, she has struggled so hard to be kooky and lovable, that it's something of a delight to see her grappling with a character who is motivated by nothing but hate and bitterness. Medusa eyes and a bellyful of bile really suit her.
But then the picture is built from little surprises. When Sam is introduced to us as an astronomer at the start of the film, we have every right to groan. Will his occupation be used to impose mystical themes on a prosaic story? Thankfully, no. It's typical of the script's gentle cunning that Sam should utilise his professional skills in the name of voyeurism. He constructs a camera obscura in his flat, a device that captures images in a telescope and projects them on to the walls - so all Sam has to do is position his equipment on the relevant windows, and he and Maggie get to watch a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week film of life across the street. Even Warhol would surely have considered this a touch excessive.
Out of this sordid scenario, the director Griffin Dunne whips one glorious moment of unsettling beauty. Having already rigged up his telescope, Sam begins painting the grubby, peeling walls while the projection of Linda drinking and talking and laughing plays over him - he's making the walls white like cinema screens, and with each sweep of the roller applying a new streak of bright paint, another section of Linda's image becomes crisply defined. It's a magical translation of intangible emotions into cinematic language, and it makes you catch your breath.
Dunne is best known as an actor - he played the harassed yuppie hero of After Hours and the masticated zombie in An American Werewolf in London. He's a careful director and he knows just when to underline the sadness in Sam and Maggie's life without saturating us in it - a judicious shot of them snuggled up on the sofa, munching junk food and absorbing the voyeuristic soap-opera unfolding on the walls does the trick nicely. The idea of the tatty apartment reflecting its inhabitants' festering state of mind also works well. With its cracked windows, grubby walls and platoon of cockroaches, this is one of the most unsettling representations of mental dislocation since Repulsion.
Addicted to Love doesn't stop there. Maggie just happens to be an expert in bugging devices, so Sam gets to hear Linda having sex in glorious Dolby, which is bad enough until Maggie decides to start reeling off certain choice details about her ex-boyfriend's physical attributes. It's as though the writer Robert Gordon has shone a torch into the mind of a jilted lover, and catalogued every paranoid delusion, every weeping wound that he found there. It makes disturbing viewing, and any laughter you hear emanating from those around you in the cinema is likely to be of a distinctly nervous varietyn
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