Friday, February 10, 2012

Shame: So the Penis Earns the NC-17

      Steve McQueen’s Shame starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan has garnered attention because it’s ‘controversial’, i.e. it shows a lot of sex, but most significantly displays that Fassbender’s amply endowed both physically and artistically.  Fassbender plays Brandon, a creative type who works in some type of New York agency.  The hook is that he is a sex addict whose sister Sissy, played by Mulligan, is emotionally voracious yet also as incapable of connection.   Fassbender gets across the range of conflicting reactions to
his overwhelming urge, but excepting one scene where he very deservedly is beaten up, I had loads of questions.  

      Does he worry about crabs or herpes?  How much and how often does he do laundry?  Are all sex addicts so sexy and do they always get so many attractive people of both genders?  When you’re penetrating someone from behind and she is leaning against a picture window, are either of you afraid the window will break and you’ll fall through and down twenty floors?  Are picture windows always so popular for sex in New York?  Why is this movie set in New York when it was financed with public British funds when it could have been set as realistically in London or Dublin except that picture windows aren’t so high up?  Why was Fassbender’s variable accent covered by using a backstory that he came from Ireland as a child, but Mulligan’s accent isn’t covered and some traces of her English accent shine through a couple of times, though she is his younger sister and raised almost completely in New Jersey?  Do the younger sisters of sex addicts always turn up in apartments uninvited and immediately take a shower and, after being discovered, stand naked to have a chat?  

Michael Fassbender
      Okay, my main question in my informal role as casting director is whether any producer is thinking about making a movie about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Mulligan plays Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, but she and Fassbender are practically doubles for that gilded literary couple from every angle.  They’re back in vogue with both Gatsby and as supporting characters in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.  

      Fassbender and Mulliagan realize the attraction/repulsion bind between these siblings in the best scenes of the movie.  Actually, they go much further than the serviceable script by Abi Morgan and McQueen.  They suggest a wounded family background without being able to work with any specifics. More questions:  were they molested or emotionally abused?  are their parents divorced?  I think the title should have been Sorrow.  Abi Morgan is the most over-rated screenwriter of the moment.  Her half-baked scripts (glittering in conception and half-baked in execution) have attracted terrific actors (Streep in The Iron Lady and the whole cast of TV’s The Hour) and directors turned on to their thematic potential, though these directors usually don’t push Morgan hard enough and so they fall back on immaculate production design, whether called for or not, or in Shame, a wonderful score by Harry Escott.  

Carey Mulligan
      James Badge Dale plays Brandon’s boss David, who’s much creepier than Brandon, as an over-ripe failed frat boy who’s a married horn dog.   More disturbing than some of the sex scenes is when David and Brandon listen to Sissy perform (Mulligan’s singing had greater depth and technical ability than I’d anticipated) and she hooks up with David immediately afterwards.  Nicole Beharie plays Marianne, a co-worker who expresses the empathy that Brandon is determined to avoid in an aborted romance.  The most demeaning scene (again, even more so than the sex scenes) is her treatment by a waiter in a restaurant.  He isn’t outwardly rude, but he completely ignores her in favor of Brandon and he’s not gay so it has nothing to do with sexual attraction, but rather a male connection based on power and Brandon doesn’t know how to quite play along.  He’s awkward and sort of embarrassed, but he doesn’t put the waiter in his place nor does he acknowledge what happens with Marianne.  Beharie and the rest of the actresses have to show their whole bodies, but Fassbender is the only actor who shows all of his.  So, two steps forward and one step back in the genre of shocking, searing sex story movie.  

Doesn't sound like anything I'd be interested in seeing.

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