Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2006. Edward R. Pressman Film, River Road Entertainment, Iron Films, Vox3 Films, Furthefilm LLC. Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the book Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth. Cinematography by Bill Pope. Produced by Laura Bickford, Andrew Fierberg, Bill Pohlad, Bonnie Timmermann. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Amy Danger. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Kristina Boden, Keiko Deguchi.
Steven Shainberg follows up his breakout success Secretary with another film that promises to bring life on the margins to the forefront but is not nearly as boundary-busting as it thinks it is. It’s a fictional story set amid a real one, at the point of famed photographer Diane Arbus’s early married life when she was still working as assistant in the studio of her husband (Ty Burrell) and raising their two daughters before she (played by Nicole Kidman) became a productive artist. Robert Downey Jr. plays a reclusive man with lifelong hypertrichosis, a condition of massive hair growth everywhere on the body, that once had him working in a circus freak show as a child but now makes him a complete recluse. When he moves into the apartment above Arbus, she begins to visit him, discovers a kinship that becomes passion and, we are told, is inspired towards the career that would follow, photographing rare and curious individuals from the world he introduces her to. The film has everything going for it, including two powerhouse actors in the leads, a superb visual style, a wonderful sense of the period and a terrific narrative, so why does it go wrong? A sluggish pace, perhaps, but most likely it’s the lack of dramatic power in pretty much every scene. Shainberg is so convinced of his own kinky rebellion he has no idea how safe and vanilla he is; the most conflict you get between characters is the disintegration of the subject’s marriage with her husband, while her interactions with Downey Jr. are limp and reveal no sparks between them.