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I was not conscious of "Splendor" being a Gregg Araki film when I
started watching it but after the first two sequences I was thinking:
"this is great directing-who did this"? While the technique screams
"Araki", as does the casting of Kathleen Robertson, the narrative is so
conventional that you find the combination hard to reconcile. I loved
an earlier comment that "Splendor" is like a John Hughes remake of "The
Doom Generation"; i.e. very conventional and without the sex and
violence, with a three-way relationship (two males-one female),
Johnathon Schaech, and Director Araki's absolutely amazing production
and post-production skills-along with his less than dazzling scripting.
Although Araki is paying homage to the great screwball comedies of the 1930's: "Topper", "It Happened One Night", "The Awful Truth", and "Bringing Up Baby"; the style and substance of "Splendor" is closer to Mike Nichols' "The Graduate" (not to mention an amusing parody of the "Graduate's" climatic wedding scene).
Kathleen Robertson has the Rose McGowen part in this version of "The Doom Generation" and is generally well suited to the role. I have not decided yet if Robertson is in McGowen's class as an actress, or in the class of her fellow Canadians Mia Kirshner and Sarah Polley. Robertson was excellent in "Maniac Mansion" and "Beverly Hills 90210", but these were similar roles that appear to mirror her own cool and detached personality. One thing that is clear is that she was a great choice for Ariki's trademark close-ups. Anyone perceptive enough to close the camera to face distance when shooting McGowen, Robertson, and most recently Michelle Trachtenberg has a eye for breathtakingly beautiful visuals.
The premise does not really have enough substance to sustain a feature although it might work as a half-hour television sit-com (see "Three's Company"). When the premise becomes tired the story brings in a new character, Eric Mabious; and the film self-destructs, killing time until a decent ending sequence. A tip-off that a screen writer has limited life experience to draw from is having cast and crew occupations for the characters. Robertson's character is an aspiring actress and Mabious is directing her in a made-for-television drama. His character is so hopelessly one-dimensional and painfully pathetic that I was convinced that he had a sinister side (what was with those blue contact lenses) that would eventually manifest itself. But this does not happen, maybe Araki had something interesting in mind and abandoned it in re-write. Mabious becomes a non-factor (see totally irrelevancy) and his scenes were simply inserted as padding to get this thing up to feature length.
The bottom line is that Araki fans will be a little disappointed with "Splendor". It is very conventional, it isn't much of a story, and the good banter is limited (although Kelly MacDonald has fantastic dialogue in all her scenes) . But if your Araki appreciation is more for his directorial talents (casting, mise en scene details, camera movement and placement) and his post-production originality, you will find "Splendor" measures up very well to his prior work. The morning after scene early in the film simply blows away anything similar from any director.
I am not the sort of reviewer who lambastes a film for not being what
it never intended to be. This goofy, lovable little comedy is highly
enjoyable and clever and is full of unusual twists. The two guys
Veronica (Kathleen Robinson) falls in love with(Matt Keeslar and
Johnathon Schaech)are both gorgeous, but totally inept, ineffectual and
co-dependent. Rather than vying for being the macho guy who becomes her
one and only, they revert to being taken care of by their "Veronica"
and in this way, reveal that their attraction to her is more motherly
than wifely (is that a word?).
When she does meet a stable, caring man who is willing to marry her and give her and her "little stranger" a secure future, she is torn between love and security.
Robertson, who resembled Nicole Kidman more than just a little, gives a tongue in cheek but emotionally true performance. Schaech (God, I wish he'd change his name to something more spell-able) plays Abel as a goofy, but totally lovable nerd, and Keeslar plays his Zed as a man who thinks with his crotch, but is in his own nerdy way, totally lovable as well.
The drunken scene where Veronica dares Abel to kiss Zed is met with disgust, but when she asks Zed to kiss Abel, Zed explains "It's not going to kill you, believe me!" Zed's been around the block more than once and the kiss, which is all Keeslar, is beautiful.
Eric Mabius' Eric- the stable one - is equally attractive in his own way. None of the men here are perfect and as in real life, Veronica must choose the lesser of two imperfections to invest her future in.
Abel and Zed (yes, the alphabet from A-Z) are two sexy losers. Eric is a non-sexy winner. Veronica is just confused, but underneath it all, she is one smart lady cookie.
Schaech's CinemaScope smile is a killer and Keeslar's abs are as lethal. What would you have done?
See it- Araki's writing and direction are a delight.
This film won't win any awards for heavy-duty messages or ironic commentary on the state of male-female relationships in the 90's. However, it will convince you that a menage a trois is not only undeviant, sometimes it's positively the only way to fly! The three leads are all cute as hell, and do a wonderful job with the quirky script. This reminds me of a French movie with a similar plot, Cafe Au Lait, translated into the demi monde of L.A. wannabees on the fringes of the entertainment industry. Worth seeing for the eye candy alone.
Veronica, single and uninvolved, meets two men at the same concert at the
same club. It would be hard for them to be more different: Abel, who she
meets on the crowded dance floor, is dark, sensitive, and a bit shy; Zed,
the drummer of the band, is bleached blond and very outspoken. She is
and can't make up her mind which of them to see. So she goes out with both
The rest of the film follows her life for the next year, and how she handles her complex situation - which becomes even more complicated when another man, Ernest, comes into the picture. Unusually for a film (especially one made in the US), it resists the temptation of taking an easy path out of her situation.
It's not perfect. It looks at some of the problems that can arise from multiple relationships, but she has too easy a time resolving them; it takes a lot longer in real life. But at least it acknowledges that the problems exist, and that it is possible to find answers.
Girl meets boy, girl sleeps with boy...then girl meets other boy, girl wants other boy as well. But instead of cheating on both of them (a la "Two Girls and a Guy"), she takes the responsible approach and tells them both, letting them decide whether they can deal with sharing her. Those of us who practice polyamory (aka "responsible nonmonogamy") will be thrilled to see a movie that treats a threesome as a viable relationship structure. And it's a fine film as well - nice lighting, some creative filming, reasonably well-acted.
Former kinetic Doom Generation provocateur Araki tries to become a modern Douglas Sirk with this largely unexciting, faintly comic romance about a woman who loves two men at once and finds three-way domestic bliss, until the guys turn into "Beavis and Butthead", and she gets pregnant. Like Sirk's super-excessive 50's melodramas, the film attempts to turn basically banal, formulaic material into a swooning, sensual spectacle, and some scenes do have a striking design muscularity (the bar where a video triptych forms the backdrop to their conversation; Robertson's apartment, with the huge clock sometimes seeming suspended Dali-like). More often though, the enterprise seems merely shallow, with the movie flashing up blocks of color as if hoping that the mere evocation of a rainbow might somehow spawn a pot of gold. Araki pushes his actors into a banality that sometimes verges on sheer babyishness (Keeslar is particularly badly handled), and the movie - given its somewhat raunchy theme - displays an odd decorousness and modesty, being weirdly coy for example about the gay implications of the arrangement. The Toronto Film Festival guide cites Truffaut and Sturges as influences rather than Sirk - either way, Araki doesn't seem to be himself here.
Araki's most overtly heterosexual film, and hence painfully mainstream, is undeniably a dissapointment for fans of his previous films, particularly the brilliant twosome "Nowhere" and "The Doom Generation". In fact in many ways "Splendour" is like a John Hughes remake of "The Doom Generations" but without the explicit sex and violence, severed heads, castrations and Parker Posey in a bizarre wig - Araki has tossed his nihilism out the window, and come up with a frustratingly conventional romcom. It continues his repeated fascination with the three-way relationship, perhaps for obvious reasons he can only portray a heterosexual relationship with two males present, and his unique visual and editing style is still apparent though toned down. Not a bad film by any means as it is enjoyable and the performances are good, but one can't help but feel underwhelmed following the daft "Graduate"-style ending. Let's hope this is a one-off for Araki.
This movie has a fresh and intriguing premise -- or anyway, one which is
carried forward and explored to an unusual degree. But unfortunately it
both is and isn't very well done.
Visually, it's very well done. Kathleen Robertson, as the Victoria who can attract two hunky guys so much that they put up with living all together, is absolutely stunning. She's a blonde beauty to begin with, but as well her face positively radiates light in this film. She's got the glowing look of a woman first falling head over hells in love, and then pregnant at the same time. I'm not sure how they / she did it, but it's pretty compelling. As well the reckless young 20 something LA party scene atmosphere, which Araki used with even more (and darker) abandon in "Doom" and "Nowhere" (and I understand as well in the all gay "Totally F**ked Up" which I haven't seen), is colorful here as well. Veronica's jumping Matt at second sight, in the bathroom, is a memorably abandoned casual sex scene. Hot. Most of the movie is in high contrast, diffuse back lighted candy colors. The atmosphere is fun, fun, fun. All of which makes a good date movie.
Emotionally it only goes just below skin deep. Yeah, OK, the two guys have different personalities, sort of. One is the carefree musician / jock physical type. None too bright. But sweet. The other is the emotionally soulful writer type. But both soon seem to merge into hunky male dependency on her, financially and emotionally. Ah yes. The theme song of the feminist 90's. Actually, she digs it.
There are some interesting sex relations insights (gay world derrived -- natch for the 90's), such as that for a two hunky guys and one gorgeous girl threesome in the same bed to work, the two guys are gonna have to get off on each other physically as well as emotionally, at least to some degree. (Just kissing, the film pretends -- maybe.) But supposedly all are overwhelming hetero, if not entirely exclusively so. The relationship conflicts which would be sure to be there, to be dealt with successfully perhaps, are hardly seen at all in this film. In fact the guys look increasingly gay to me, but that is little explored.
Instead, the plot moves forward through a different conflict -- her perceived need for ANOTHER sort of man. A career and financially successful one, who can help her in the traditional ways -- once she learns she's pregnant from one of her happy go lucky, but femme submissive, hunks. The trouble of course is that she doesn't LOVE the successful guy. He too is a male submissive, but of the casper milktoast variety. I mean this guy convinces her to go with him on a weekend getaway to his condo in Maui with the promise of "only talking", and then when she's receptive to him after being blow away by the luxe, he remains "true to his word", the idiot, and doesn't do diddly. She was begging for it Earnest. Talk about a testosterone deficit!!!
Nonetheless, our heroine gets engaged to Earnest. He's so nice, and life with him would be so secure. This is getting pedestrian. As well, at this point the film loses any semblance of honesty. "Earnest is the kind of guy who would stick around, whether it was fun or not", she explains to her girlfriend. Of course the film never asks the obvious reverse question. Is she? Probably because you'd get the wrong answer. Next her lesbo girlfriend warns her against marrying someone she doesn't really and truly love. "I'm doing the responsible thing" she says. Her girlfriend counters: 'Even if it means ball and chaining yourself to him for the rest of your life?"
As if!!! Under today's feminist "reformed" divorce laws? What total dishonesty! Just what would be the downside to Victoria marrying Earnest? How long does she have to stay with him? What does she get if she splits after a couple of years? For that matter, what would keep this thinking-outside-the-traditional-box femme from shacking up with her two hunks three or four nights a week while she's married to her well off milktoast? And what would be the consequences for her if she did? Horrible, for such duplicity, right? Hardly. If Earnest decided not to put up with it after a while, guess who'd have to pay for the mistake, and the transgressions? Why Earnest of course!!! Welcome to marriage law in feminist America. Whatever emotional significance most people still attach to marriage commitments at least before the fact, legally marriage is now almost entirely a one way contract which obligates only men, and not women.
Was the possibility that Earnest could be viewed by Victoria not as an alternative to her dual action thing, but really as a supplement to it, touched on by this flick? Why not? After all, isn't it a natural line to explore, since she's trying to combine an edgy sexual relationship with multiple submissive men, with financial security for her child? Isn't it begging to be explored, after a line like: 'Even if it means ball and chaining yourself to him for the rest of your life?"
Maybe it's not because then the incredible bias in feminist "reformed" American marriage (divorce) law today would come into focus. We can't have that, now can we?
Oh, and another thing. When are we going to see a flick which flips this script? Two (or more) predominantly hetero women living happily with one guy? Where that is celebrated, I mean, rather than vilified. When in the last 1 1/2 decades has that been done? Anyone care to name the American film? It can't be done.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPLENDOR is a quick little film that once again demonstrates
writer/director Gregg Araki's talent in making big social comments out
of just a little idea. Though this may not be one of his most
successful films, it certainly has enough going for it to give it a
Narrated by flippant, kooky, slightly irritatingly shallow Veronica (Kathleen Robertson) who also is the main character of the story, we find that Veronica (aka V aka Ron) has been on a dry run for a love life for a long time, and just when she thinks she'll never find her man, up pops Halloween, and with her best friend Mike (Kelly MacDonald) she ventures into a party where she meets not one but two candidates for relationship - Abel (hunky Jonathan Schaech) who is a would be writer and is inept at about everything social and Zed (also hunky Matt Keeslar) who is a drummer whose intellect and socialization skills don't go far beyond his drumsticks. Veronica beds them both, finds them equally attractive and eventually the three become a ménage à trois in the same apartment. The two men, while transiently jealous of each other, ultimately find happiness in Veronica's breadwinning capabilities and both truly love her and each other. Things become strained when Veronica learns she is pregnant! Meanwhile, Veronica is offered upward mobility by yet another hunk Ernest (Eric Mabius) who represents stability and money whereas Abel and Zed represent only passion. Considering her pregnant life choices she agrees to marry Ernest despite her lack of loving him and all proceeds towards the wedding day when Abel and Zed decide to make changes in the plans.
Schaech, Mabius and Keeslar provide sufficient eye candy to overcome a strained script. Had Veronica been cast differently the story may have had a better impact, but as it is this remains a fun, spunky movie that for Araki fans is a good diversion. Grady Harp
Splendor is a much different film than you'd expect from writer/director Greg Arakki's previous work. It stays away from the stylistic and linguistic tendencies that plagued both "The Doom Generation" and "Nowhere". Visually, the film is also much more conventional, adding to a slightly strange, but by no means bizarre plot line. It's the story of Veronica, featuring a fine performance by Kathleen Robertson, who has fallen in love with two different men. She somehow manages to keep them apart, and then eventually, to get them to like each other. Together they form a triple, as opposed to a couple. It seems a bit of a stretch to assume that this complex relationship would work, that the two would be willing to share her as a girlfriend, and that they would all be able to live together in seeming harmony. The problem, is that the two different men soon become crude characterizations, rather than flesh and blood people that we could care about. They seem rather pathetic at times, and things get complicated when yet another man enters Veronica's life, offering stability and desiring a relationship with her. Despite the obvious nods to Three's Company, and the sometimes funny scenes that Arakki conjures up, the film is simply not exciting enough to hold our interest in these characters, the writing is not bold enough to grab out attention, and the film isn't nearly as erotic as its set up would suggest. All in all, it's an okay film from a director I usually don't like all that much, but it's definitely not what you're expecting from an Arakki film (which doesn't necessarily mean that it's any better for its difference)
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