A Dangerous Method – Review

A Dangerous Method (2011) 

Directed by: David Cronenberg. Written by: Christopher Hampton. Starring Michael FassbenderKeira KnightleyViggo Mortensen.

I can’t remember the last time when I have been so much in disagreement with the general critical response for a movie… Everywhere I look I seem to hear and read high praises for Cronenberg’s latest work, and yet I am willing to bet that few of those who claimed to like it so much would be ready to watch it again. As far as I am concerned I am struggling to find something positive to say (well, yes, nice costumes…) and the only reason why my vote isn’t any lower is because I am willing to admit that I might have not been in the right mood for it.

Even in his most flawed films, Cronenberg has always been an interesting director, or at least able to create not only an almost palpable atmosphere, but also a particularly defined style and vision which set him apart from the usual Hollywood crowd.

And yet this one seems a film with no direction whatsoever. Not only each sequence felt random and inconsequential as if not necessarily edited in the right order, without any real feeling of natural progression from the previous one into the next, but also it was all so static and lifeless that sometimes I even wondered whether anyone was actually directing at all. At no point I felt any sympathy for any of the character: in fact, not only I did not like any of them, but I didn’t even hate them either. I just didn’t care.

And this is is a rather strange thing to say, because on paper, a film about the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (and consequently the birth of psychoanalysis) sounded to me very intriguing indeed. Sadly, pretty earlier on into “A dangerous Method” I realised that this wasn’t really the type of film I was hoping to see.

I found myself uneasy right from the word “go”, that is from the moment I saw Keira Knightley overacting like never before and stretching her chin to new unbelievable levels, as if screaming to the audience “I want that Oscar!!”. Well, darling, not this time.

Then, after the early screams, it all calmed down a bit and the dialogue started… and that’s when it got worse! For a film which should rely on words more than action itself (especially given the static nature of it all), I found the script absolutely puerile. It all felt like it was written by a high school kid, who’s just heard a few things about Freud and wants to impress his friend with his newly acquired knowledge. I mean, there are actually lines like “You Freud, have always sex in your mind. Why does everything always has to do with sex?”!  Really? Mr Hampton, who are you writing this script for? Surely your target audience doesn’t need things spell out so boldly and blatantly.

It was like reading a checklist of all the possible clichés one could think about psychoanalysis (and Freud in particular). Who is this film for anyway? At times it felt like it was so ridiculously basic, as if it was written for people who have never even heard of Freud and Jung. Other times it was all so ridden with heavy handed quotes and so “up its own self” that it felt like watching some boring lecture given by an even more bored teacher, sitting on your old desk back in school. From such a renowned scriptwriter (he wrote Dangerous Liaisons and Atonement among the other things) I was expecting a lot more: maybe Mr Hampton should watch a few episodes of HBO’s classy “In Treatment” to learn a thing of two about the subtlety of bringing psychoanalysis to the screen.

As far as the two leading male actors (Fassbender and Mortensen, who by the way was so good in both Cronenberg “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”), they were as good as they could possibly be, but in the end they both failed to impress, move, or even raise any sort of emotion beyond boredom. But then again, that’s hardly surprising given both the script they were actually given and a clear lack of any direction, which forced them to talk at each other in the most contrived scenes and badly staged, where even the extras in the background seemed fake and moved slowly and gently like… erm…well, extras (particularly noticeable in the scene by the river).

Sorry David, not this time for me.

5/10

Young Adult – Review

YOUNG ADULT (2011)

Directed by Jason Reitman. Written by Diablo Cody. Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt.

After the massive success of Juno, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody team up again, this time focusing their attention, not on a pregnant teenager (Juno) or a middle-aged lonely traveller (up in the Air), but on one the most dislikeable character you can think of.

Charlize Theron basically plays a narcissistic bitch, Mavis Gary, who heads back to her small hometown with the only intention to reclaim the heart of her high school flame (Patrick Wilson) despite the fact that he’s now happily married with a newly born baby.

Of course movie history is full of great awful lead characters (think of Goodfellas, just to mention one). A good story doesn’t necessarily has to have somebody you like to be appreciated, and you don’t really need to identify with a lead character to enjoy a movie… However, be aware it may end up testing your patience unless it’s all exceptionally grabby… and that’s exactly what happened to me watching this film. Charlize might be one of the most stunningly beautiful actress of our time, but her character Mavis is really not a nice person at all…

Diablo Cody said she’s based the character on herself… a bold statement which makes me like her less and less: let’s just hope she was exaggerating… Mavis is selfish, obnoxious, irritating, insensitive, and basically just not very good with people: eventually she ends up hurting not just her friends, but her family… and even her dog, but most importantly herself.

The film is intentionally uncomfortable, unconventional and quite low-key, but however brave is the attempt from both the screenplay and the direction to avoid any sugary redemption story (something which has been much criticised in the previous “Up in the Air” for example), and a typical Hollywood construction, the film is in the end rather inconclusive.

We never really get a grip on Mavis. And when we finally do, since we never really liked her that much, we just do not feel enough empathy or pain or sorrow or even curiosity for what she did or what she’s going to do. In other words, we don’t care (or at least I didn’t). Eventually all we are left it is just a good performance by Charlize Theron, but then again, after her amazing turn in Monster in 2003, she’s got nothing more to prove to me.

Once again she didn’t settle for an easy part and she certainly managed to give enough depth to a character which otherwise would have been a bit of a caricature, but despite all that, “Young Adult” never really took off for me.

It is on the whole a fairly predictable film which moves a very constant pace towards a pretty obvious (though masked as unconventional) conclusion.

In the end it all feels rather pointless. Of course, you may argue that such is real life: journeys of discoveries and redemption are true only in Hollywood movies and this wants to be different. Well, it certainly succeeds in that: it is different. This isn’t the feel-good movie that “Juno” was (and I’m fine with that), nor it is as quirky, fresh and surprising as “Up in the Air” was. It is probably a much more mature effort and a lot braver, but all that doesn’t necessarily make it a great film. In the end there was just to little in it.

I’m happy I saw it, but I don’t think I will want to watch it again and I’m sure once the awards buzz fades out the film will actually disappear with it.

6/10

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