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Center of the World

'Center of the World' follows a dot.com millionaire on a Vegas excursion

Friday, May 25, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"The Center of the World," now at the Squirrel Hill Theater, opens with a vision of a city containing many of the world's most recognizable landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Sphinx. The center of the world? Nah. It's just Las Vegas, where everything is counterfeit except the money.

It's the perfect setting for a liaison between Richard (Peter Sarsgaard), a dot.com millionaire who experiences life almost entirely through his computer, and Florence (Molly Parker), a drummer with a rock band who moonlights as a stripper at an upscale club -- a fantasy figure for wealthy men. He says the center of the world is the Internet. She says it is located between her legs.

 
 
Movie Review

'THE CENTER OF THE WORLD'

RATING: Unrated; contains sex, nudity and strong language.

STARRING: Molly Parker, Peter Sarsgaard.

DIRECTOR: Wayne Wang.

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

Florence agrees to go to Vegas with Richard when he offers her $10,000, but only on her terms. They don't share a room or a bed. No kissing on the mouth. No penetration. No sexual games outside the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Obviously, this strictly business relationship cannot last. Richard tries to make an emotional connection with Florence, who responds slowly until the catalyst of a third party breaks the logjam, with unforeseen repercussions.

It is perhaps appropriate that the screenplay for "The Center of the World" was written by an artificial person. It is credited to Ellen Benjamin Wong, a pseudonym for Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster and director Wayne Wang. They must have realized the irony of using a fake name to write a movie about characters who are faking their way through life.

Ultimately, "The Center of the World" itself seems to skirt the truth it seeks.

Director Wang uses handheld digital cameras that bring us into more intimate contact with the characters in their little dream world, but in fact the intimacy that develops between them can't last, and we know it. The movie never transcends the characters enough to offer a larger commentary on the retreats from life that technology enables us to build for ourselves.

Parker, who played the pregnant sister in "Wonderland," offers an arresting presence in the movie. She seems enigmatic when in fact she is the one person in the film aware of the fact that she is putting on an act. But her sexuality is convincing nonetheless.

She dominates Sarsgaard's character to the point where he seems overwhelmed, and they don't appear to be playing on level ground even when he effectively counterattacks.

Carla Gugino has a small but important role as the catalyst who helps send the relationship into chaos.

Alas, despite the serious intentions of the filmmakers, "The Center of the World" ends up feeling like a soft-core sex flick aimed at the art-house crowd.

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