Friday, October 7, 2011
NYFF 2011: Shame (2011) (An On Futher Review style review- with spoilers)
Steve McQueen's follow up to Hunger once again has him working with Michael Fassbender. Fassbender and the film are on the short list for Oscars come the end of the year. While I like the film, I can't quite give the film that much love.
The plot of the film follows Michael Fassbender's sex addict as he goes through life keeping everyone and everything at a distance. He's so disconnected that he won't even talk to his sister who calls him everyday and leaves long messages. Unfortunately for Fassbender he comes home one day to find his sister in his bathtub. She's got a singing gig in New York and she's planning on staying with him. It's a move that upsets his ordered life and sends him scurrying in all sorts of directions, including into a possible relationship with a woman from his office.
My first question is why is it that many critics rave about any reasonable performance by an actor when he does full frontal nudity? Apparently this is a big to do. To me the fact that Fassbender wanders through several scenes naked is nothing special, its simply how he would be in those scenes. I'm shocked that no one has talked about the fact that he urinates in an early scene, which is even rarer on screen.
I'm sorry, but Fassbender's performance isn't anything special. The big daring move here is the nudity, but outside of that, Fassbender doesn't really do much. Yes, there are some emotional moments but mostly he plays it silent. Fassbender says little and lets the audience read into what he is doing anyway that they want (at the press conference after the film director Steve McQueen said that he designed bits of the film that way). I suppose that's a good thing, but to me, I'd like to have the director and the actor give me a little bit more than a mirror, I mean a few more personal details would have been nice. To me other than some turmoil in a few scenes I don't think there was very much going on behind his eyes. He's a cypher to start and that's how he ends, even with some late in the game emotions.
Cary Mulligan as his sister is more interesting in her few scenes. There is clearly something more going on there, but again, so much isn't spoken. I would love to see a film about her character. ( I need to point out that Mulligan delivers one of the best, and most heart rending versions of New York, New York you'll ever hear. It's brilliant)
I don't think the film really works. I know people like Fassbender's character and in some ways I can relate to his obsessions (you've seen this blog so you know I'm obsessive) but there is something about him that doesn't quite ring true. It's not so much that what he does is wrong, it's that the weird swings he takes just don't seem real in the way they play out. They seem more constructed rather than natural, he will do this now and then that... Actually, yes what doesn't seem real is the construction of the film, which has the various characters rambling around for the first two thirds before Fassbender drops into hell in the final third, taking his sister with him.
I need to ask, am I the only one bothered by the film's equating gay sex and threesomes with a descent into depravity? I have nothing wrong with either, but the fact that McQueen uses them as a shorthand for Fassbender going off the rails is just wrong and borederline offensive. Actually the whole sequence from the hooker, to bar to gay club to threesome felt gratuitous and off base and like I was being cheated or treated like a child...or more like McQueen decided to come clean and say "you've sat for an hour of no sex so here's everything we promised you in one shot".
I won't go into the life changing sequences that follows Fassbender's binge when he heads home... all I'll say is that I can't believe that McQueen actually did it since it smells of the tendency to have great art go tragic just to bring about catharsis or bring about the desired end of the story (never mind if it's out of place and made me think of former Saturday Night Live and National LAmpoon writer Michael O'Donoghue's piece The Way to Write Good which says effectively the way to be taken seriously is bring in tragedy at the end).
Because I've been bad mouthing the film I need to say that this isn't a bad film. It really isn't. It's just not what all the many reviews I've read have made it out to be. Its good, but no religious experience. Personally, I think it's simply the sort of film that has a "daring" subject which has gotten under the skin of some critics and audiences who are used to more sedate subjects.
If the subject intrigues you give it a shot, just don't feel the need to go running out to see it.