1 item from 1999
17 September 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
David Lynch, Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, heck, even Gregg Araki is mellowing with age. Alas, he's still not winning over many critics, though his newest, most technically polished film "Splendor" lives up to its premise of a steamy bisexual screwball comedy.
Opening today in New York and next week in Los Angeles, the Samuel Goldwyn Films release will have a less-than-splendid theatrical run for what could have been the maverick filmmaker's commercial breakthrough. If bigger-name performers were involved, "Splendor" might have had a chance to break out of the pack given its two-guys-and-a-girl-in-love dynamics and breezy, upbeat agenda.
"Splendor" comes on the heels of writer-director Araki's "Teen Apocalypse Trilogy" -- "Totally F***ed Up," "The Doom Generation" and "Nowhere" -- and has a slightly new flavor of sexual politics to go along with the relatively mature protagonists, who have made it to their early 20s and still know how to have a good time.
Indeed, impulsive flirting and sex with two different men leads nice-girl Veronica (Kathleen Robertson) into the unknown territory of a threesome in which the about-to-get-lucky actress is spoiled in all ways. Enjoying the situation and wanting everyone to be friendly, she brings together Abel (Johnathon Schaech) and Zed (Matt Keeslar), only to dump them and get engaged to a third beau.
Not without a few rounds of awkwardness and tension -- with Veronica imagining black-and-white boxing bouts between the two, with herself as referee -- all three soon share the same bed. Of course, for Araki, threesomes are nothing new and neither is gay-themed romance. But with a prudish yet sensual visual approach, this time he positions Veronica as the film's heart and soul.
Employing such shopworn techniques as the lead speaking directly to the camera, extensive voice-overs and music-inspired montages, Araki entrusts the more delicate shadings of the movie to the principal performers. Led by Nicole Kidman-like Robertson, the cast supplies the chemistry that provides for several enjoyable stretches and endearing characterizations overall. But the filmmaker's detractors will also find much to pick away at, most noticeably Araki's drastically toned-down attitude toward the establishment, big business and suburbia.
Even when TV director Ernest (Eric Mabius) -- described by Veronica as The Hollywood Reporter-meets-Psychology Today -- enters the scenario, Araki holds back from the raucous satire and grostequerie found in his past two films. Instead, he has Veronica get pregnant, which predictably ups the stakes emotionally and logistically. Kelly MacDonald is suitably screechy and stylishly decadent as Veronica's lesbian friend, whose tiny costumed dog steals the show in a few shots.
A cute dog in a Gregg Araki movie? A G-rated Lynch film? This could turn into a frightening trend. On the other hand, Araki once again does enough things right, starting with the writing and the casting, to make entertaining fluff that matches well with his much angrier and more abrasively challenging works.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Summit Entertainment and Newmarket Capital Group present
a Desperate Pictures/Dragon Pictures production
Writer-director: Gregg Araki
Director of photography: Jim Fealy
Production designer: Patti Podesta
Editor: Gregg Araki
Costume designer: Susanna Puisto
Music: Daniel Licht
Casting: Mary and Karen Margiotta
Veronica: Kathleen Robertson
Abel: Johnathon Schaech
Zed: Matt Keeslar
Ernest: Eric Mabius
Mike: Kelly MacDonald
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1999
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