Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
France/USA, 2014. Desperate Pictures, Orange Studio, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch. Screenplay by Gregg Araki, based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. Cinematography by Sandra Valde-Hansen. Produced by Gregg Araki, Pascal Caucheteaux, Pavlina Hatoupis, Sébastien K. Lemercier, Alix Madigan. Music by Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie. Production Design by Todd Fjelsted. Costume Design by Mairi Chisholm. Film Editing by Gregg Araki. Podcast: Bad Gay Movies
Gregg Araki once again turns to a novel for his source material but, unlike his superb job in bringing out the dangerous elements of Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin, he falters with a drab melodrama that is well below even his messiest original works of rebellion. Shailene Woodley plays a teenager whose miserable housewife mother (Eva Green) disappears when she is seventeen years-old, leaving her alone with her friendly, unassuming father (Christopher Meloni) and the support of her two best friends (Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato). She’s on the verge of graduating high school and is distraught over her boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) suddenly distancing himself from their very physical relationship, dealing with her frustration by starting a sexual affair with the cop (Thomas Jane) on her mom’s case. A few years later Woodley is visiting home from college and begins to hear things from those closest to her for the first time, suspicions about the real reason her mother is missing and the possibility that more people are involved, and eventually, within the last few minutes of the film, she walks into the shocking truth. While the synopsis is the stuff of great soap opera, every aspect of it is constructed poorly by a filmmaker who usually gets much more vibrant performances out of his actors and squeezes more blood out of such a potentially juicy situation. Other than a few plot holes that leave one scratching their head (she NEVER had to go get a meal from that freezer for four years?) there’s also the tonally inconsistent acting from a very impressive cast, characters who serve little purpose except to kill time (Angela Bassett as a therapist, Jane’s involvement other than to give our heroine a good ride or two) and confusion about how Green’s character is supposed to read. It’s set in 1988 but the suburban misery feels like Ice Storm-seventies and the morality plays like the sixties, and Green, who spends the whole time dressed like a broken Audrey Hepburn and lashes out at everybody like a late-career Joan Crawford, isn’t quite in command of the mix of pathos and humour that the character is likely meant to engender. It’s the type of thing that has been done better many other times, and should be left alone even for fans of the director’s oeuvre.