Character actor Michael Shannon has been nominated for his second Oscar for his role in the 2016 thriller Nocturnal Animals. "No Small Parts" takes a look at some of the other characters he's played in the past.
This made-for-TV movie centers on the father of Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, Dr Paul Fleiss, a California pediatrician, in a treatment which the real Paul Fleiss was a consultant.
Paul is presented here as "generous" and "accommodating", who doesn't believe in punishment or "set limits" in fear of "squashing Heidi's energy". This parental leniency, coupled with a mother that is shown to be unloving, neurotic, sexually frustrated and unhappy, creates the environment for Heidi to act out. There is also the suggestion made that Heidi has lesbian tendencies, since she prefers the company of women, doesn't prostitute herself, and the only boyfriend we see appears to be a business relationship i.e. he is a pimp who educates her in the game. (The only nudity we see is topless women relaxing poolside at Heidi's place). That Heidi is portrayed as totally unlikeable is redeemed by her admission of the same, though we don't learn of her fate, since she is charged with pandering and drug possession.
Paul is charged with fraud after Heidi has him sign a bank loan application for a property that she is to live in, and the plot is framed by the judges verdict. In the meantime, Paul visits a friend to attend a wedding, which allows him to reminisce on the past via flashbacks.
Michael Gross' blandness is used well in his casting as Paul, who you either think is an angel or a weak liberal. Whilst having Paul play chess with a homeless man is a pain, his criticism of his wife's use of make-up is a nice reactionary touch. We also get Dr Spock at a 1972 party, the Fleiss' sleeping in bunk beds "cos the children come first", a cat statue in Heidi's apartment, and an expectation of an accident not met by a bird cry. However we get a howler when Heidi's sister Shana is giving evidence with "I'm not comfortable with those words" about sworn testimony.
Although director Michael Switzer occasionally uses subjective camera, one slow motion, and freeze frames, and the music of Chris Boardman uses a guitar riff to indicate sleaziness, this movie sustains interest for most of it's running time. It's just a pity that Lois Nettleton and George Segal are wasted in negligible roles.
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