Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. United Kingdom, 2011. See-Saw Films, Film4, UK Film Council, Lipsync Productions, Alliance Films, HanWay Films. Screenplay by Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan. Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt. Produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman. Music by Harry Escott. Production Design by Judy Becker. Costume Design by David C. Robinson. Film Editing by Joe Walker. Golden Globe Awards 2011. Independent Spirit Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
Pedestrian effort at examining sexual addiction is Steve McQueen’s follow-up to his much more impressive debut, Hunger. Michael Fassbender stars as a New York City corporate drone who spends his every waking moment chasing an orgasm, either by randomly following girls off the subway, masturbating in the office bathroom, watching porn on his computer or, most often, entertaining prostitutes. His lifestyle is hemmed in when his down and out sister (a miscast but still effective Carey Mulligan) shows up in need of a place to stay. Meanwhile, he attempts to pursue something legitimate on a date with a co-worker but eventually realizes that unemotional physical encounters are the only reality he can accept. McQueen’s moralizing is heavy-handed and his symbolism far too obvious from the get-go: we know within minutes that we are meant to see the irony that Fassbender is often connecting with other bodies yet is always alone; other times the sequences that prove his failure to link physical intimacy with human connection are explicitly described to the point of being intellectually insulting. The morality is pretty naïve (everyone cries during sex after one too many prostitutes, didn’t you know this?) and the stakes are never particularly high: if McQueen wants us to know that sexually compulsive behavior is destructive to Fassbinder’s life, he should probably show him having one in the first place. Instead he seems to have an endless amount of money to spend on hookers that never gets in the way of paying Manhattan-level rent, and he has no one decent to compare himself to considering that his sister throws away her own life on a bad relationship about five minutes after she enters frame. Unanswered questions about his life with his sibling are more frustrating than mysterious given the hackneyed symbolism and lack of humour, while the main saving grace is the work done by the cast, particularly a physically fetching and emotionally awe-inspiring Fassbender. The star does more than everything in his power to keep this thing from being a deadly bore and only partly succeeds, but it is not a reflection on his talent. The rest is a series of contrived situations that were dramatized better by Madonna’s Bad Girl video, which covers all the same territory without wasting this much of your time.