Based on a posthumously published Ernest Hemingway novel, Hemingway’s Garden Of Eden stars Jack Huston as a young writer and WWI veteran who meets flighty heiress Mena Suvari in Paris in 1927 and embarks on a whirlwind romance that takes a turn to the bizarre. Jealous of his success—which makes her feel like he belongs to everyone, not just her—Suvari cuts her hair short and insists that she’s the boy in their relationship and he’s the girl. As they tour the resorts of Europe, they have ever-more-adventurous sex and descend into a drunken haze, while Huston tries to work and Suvari tries to distract him. Then she brings home another woman, Caterina Murino, and coerces Huston into an open relationship that has the unintended effect of showing him that he needn’t be so beholden to Suvari’s madness.
Director John Irvin and screenwriter James Scott Linville hew closely to Hemingway’s spare style; the dialogue and plot in Garden Of Eden are rendered clearly and precisely, without a lot of fine shading. The result is a movie that’s all surface… all silly, silly surface. Huston has no identity outside of “acclaimed writer who meekly acquiesces to his lover’s demands,” and Suvari is so clearly crazy from the start that even her overpowering seductiveness doesn’t fully explain why Huston’s such a sap for her. A few second-half detours into one of Huston’s stories—an autobiographical piece about a boy hunting elephants in Africa alongside his philandering father—effectively underline the theme of taming the wild, but then it’s back to Huston, Suvari, and Murino alternately sniping and smiling tersely at each other while sporting increasingly ridiculous hairstyles. The film isn’t erotic or profound. It is occasionally comic, though—like reading the finalists for one of those Bad Sex In Fiction awards.