Or it can be a child with its parents, or a child with its surrogate parent and a birth parent, or an unseen child between two grown-ups trying to save it. Or the third person can be the lawyer trying to negotiate between a couple. So many triangles. Will they ever intersect?
“Third Person” purports to be about three couples: a writer and his lover, and, yes, his wife. This triangle is played by Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, and Kim Basinger. Neeson plays a failing writer, who uses the third person in his journal. Wilde, as his paramour, also a writer, calls him on it. “Aren’t journals supposed to reveal the inner self?” she demands truly and meanly.
A second group is played by Adrien Brody, Moran Adias and two unseen children — his and hers. A third trinity comprises Mila Kunis, James Franco, and Loan Chabanol — squared by a child, seen. Now, add Maria Bello as a lawyer and the wife of one of the above, add a smuggler and extortionist and a new girlfriend, plus countless by-standers. And then add one more threesome: the cities of London, Paris and Roma. Oh, and to add another fold, another complication, make Roma work overtime by having one of the characters be Roma, the ethnic group formerly known as Gypsies.
So do all these bits and bobs intersect. You bet they do, given that “Third Person” is a film by Paul Haggis, who also created “Crash.” The pattern he established there repeats with his latest film. Unfortunately, “Third Person” is unnecessarily complicated, with too many folds, to many coincidences. Oh, yes, it’s fun to tease apart, but up to a point, and it’s at that point that there had better be a, well, a point. Not too sure “Third Person has one, besides the same one as “Crash,” that is, that life is random and that things do happen that seem coincidental but turn out to be interdigitated or loopy-de-loop.
It seems ironic that Kunis plays a character who was once a soap opera star, hired because she could cry on cue, for she does that, too, in this role. By the time she turns on the waterworks, all trust is gone, yet trust — as seen in references to white by the writer, who steals everyone’s lines for his work — fails throughout. And that includes trust in Haggis’ vision. “Third Person” is exhausting and unrewarding. Even Paris, London and Rome do not fill in when interest flags. As it will.