If you're into laboratory observations, Wicker Park may be enjoyed most as a psychological study of cute courting rituals, which can only be found in the movies.
This rat's nest of tangled love begins with Matthew (Josh Hartnett), a guy we're supposed to believe is an advertising executive living in Chicago's Wicker Park. He's just been handed the biggest break of his career, to close a deal in Beijing. But the young man frets about his confidence and fear of flying. Stopping by Bellucci's, the neighborhood pub du jour, for a quick drink with the client and his fiancee Rebecca (Jessica Pare), Matthew happens to catch a glimpse of a blonde woman.
Convinced it's his former girlfriend Lisa (Diane Kruger), the chance encounter cracks open an obsession he put to rest two years ago when the professional dancer abruptly disappeared. Crazed at the idea of seeing her again, Matthew lies to his boss and fiancee, and instead of going to China, scours the streets of Wicker Park looking for his lost love.
Before the movie began, the preview audience I shared the theater with, screamed at the sound of Josh Hartnett's name. An hour later, after being presented with the film's complex series of flashbacks and non-linear storyline, those screams turned into hushed whispers, with the woman behind me musing out loud, "I'm so confused..."
For me, confusion was secondary to being frustrated with Wicker Park's revolving door of characters-Matthew, Lisa, Matthew's womanizing friend Luke (Matthew Lillard) and Luke's girlfriend Alex (Rose Byrne). Through a series of amazing coincidences, "meet cutes," staggering examples of poor communication and selfish desires, patrons attending this film will spend good money and time watching what amounts to a group of human subjects finding their way through a complex social maze.
Hartnett's appeal will be a muscular magnet pulling female adolescents toward this chick flick, but parents may want to offer some repelling forces. The only character in this film that shows an ounce of moral commitment-and I felt empathy for-is poor Rebecca, who leaves Matthew at the airport and pines for his safe arrival from China. However, the "core four" are all comfortable with casual sexual relationships. Even Matthew, with his heart now set on Lisa, is easily enticed into quick sex with another woman after she doffs her top (no explicit nudity is seen).
With three occasions of "fade to black" PG-13 sex between unmarried people (and, for those concerned about such things, nary a word about making such sex "safe") and a moderate amount of profanities (including a single hushed use of the sexual expletive), this convoluted romance is also a dry watch. The unconventional editing doesn't enhance the story, but instead attempts to disguise what is actually a yawing yarn about misguided twenty-somethings, whose poor decisions have left them lost in love's labyrinth.