The first rule of celebrity dating: Do not make a movie with your significant other. The second rule: Do not make a movie with your significant other. Unfortunately, Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend break both of those rules with Head in the Clouds, a dreary, endless period epic about the love between a free-spirited hedonist and a bland idealist.
Gilda, the hedonist (Theron), and Guy, the bore (Townsend), meet in 1933 at Cambridge, where he's a plucky scholarship student and she's the campus slut. She seduces him by talking about his "willy" and boning him on her boyfriend's pool table; he intrigues her with his gritty, working-class background, as illustrated by a single scene in which he pounds a punching bag.
Soon, the pair are living together in swinging pre-war Paris, along with Mia (Penelope Cruz), a Spanish burlesque showgirl with a limp and a thing for Gilda. But as the Spanish Civil War rages, boring Guy develops a conscience and he and Mia leave the self-centered Gilda behind to fight fascism. After that, the movie goes from semi-stylish romance to plodding war story, with both Guy and Mia writing tortured letters to Gilda, and Guy growing some stubble to indicate character development.
And then it just goes on and on, moving from the Spanish Civil War to World War II, with Guy and Gilda conflicted and pining away for one another even as Gilda carries on an affair with a Nazi officer. Writer-director John Duigan has in mind a sweeping, far-reaching story combining romance and history (the press materials compare the film to Casablanca and The English Patient), but what he's come up with is a lifeless love story and a simplistic take on history. Theron and Townsend, as is often the case with real-life couples on-screen, have little chemistry, and it doesn't help that they spend nearly the entire second half of the film apart.
On top of that, Townsend is an extraordinarily dull presence, and given how bland Guy is in the first place (even his name is generic), the flat performance renders the character completely worthless. Theron, coming off her Oscar win for Monster, is back in a role she's more conventionally known for, that of glamorous heartbreaker, and she gives a solid if unspectacular performance. The problems with the film lie much deeper though, with Duigan's clumsy script and artless direction. He, like his heroine, is too in love with his own ideas to see a world crumbling around him.