While New York has numerous fault lines, including a large one that trots along 125th Street, it doesn’t suffer much seismic activity. But according to playwright Stephen Belber’s Fault Lines, tectonic upsets occur all over Manhattan—in the anguished heart of every middle-aged man. As an older character explains to two thirtysomething pals: “You guys are at a point in your life . . . where the plates are shifting. Things are getting shifted—no?”
After a separation of some months, best friends Jim (Dominic Fumusa) and Bill (Josh Lucas) meet up in the backroom of a bar. They chat about girls, Charlie Rose, and ejaculation. Then an interloper disturbs their privacy. At first, Joe (Noah Emmerich) seems a mere annoyance, or perhaps some sort of Ghost of Prostate Future. He introduces himself by asking questions about the other gentlemen’s “flow.” “I actually urinated three times the other night,” he says cheerfully. “But I have a bed basin, so it wasn’t so bad.” Perplexingly, Jim and Bill don’t immediately flee the bar—the first in a series of absurd contrivances. Rather, they remain long enough for Joe to reveal deep fissures in their friendship.
Fault Lines, directed by David Schwimmer, would be easier to dismiss were Belber untalented. He writes plenty of amusing lines and betrays some insight into the intimacies, rivalries, and elisions that compose male friendship. His dialogue veers from the intensely graphic (all that talk of semen) to the painfully inarticulate, as when Jim muses: “You get to a certain age, and if you fuck things up, they become . . . they become very hard to unfuck. Which makes it harder to engage. In stuff.” Belber, who’s reached Jim’s “certain age,” seemingly wants to engage in stuff, though he eventually forsakes character and relationships for a series of increasingly inane plot twists. And for every humorous line, there’s a clunker like Jim’s “My heart is becoming a clay pigeon” or Bill’s putative search for “existential breast milk.” Amid so much silliness, no earthquakes—emotional or otherwise—can register.