For the most part, this movie isn’t just slow; it’s interminable, at least for the first hour. And then the rest of it is violence for violence sake. It’s high porn masquerading as art. Perhaps writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn is making a statement about the cutthroat business of high fashion, but it really does remind me of pornography with its long, slow camera pans across bodies, husky seductive voices, Lesbian love and girl fights, all with clichés for dialog. Dialog example: “Ruby……….Ruby……….Ruby……….thank you.”
The subject is about a young girl named Jesse (Fanning)--without parents, of course—who has aspirations for modeling. She lives in a seedy hotel with Psycho vibes (Keanu Reeves has the role of creepy owner), and we’re supposed to see that the modeling agency photographer likes ‘em better the younger they are. Jesse has been told to lie and say she is 19; she is much younger. The make-up girl Ruby (Malone) takes her under her wing saying she’ll “protect” her, and introduces Jesse to her two snipe-y girlfriends. As expected, the story devolves into the stereotypical portrayal of jealous, conniving, vindictive females who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims and are unforgiving when they’re thwarted. One envious character muses, “Who’s she fucking? How high can she get, and is it higher than me?”
There are sadistic themes, with characters exploiting those who don’t stand up for themselves or are perceived by others as being weak or are incapacitated so can’t defend themselves. Scenes often involve two characters, one controlling, the other, submissive. Although Jesse comes across initially as very naïve, submissive and in need of a protector, she has flashes of strength that seem out of character, such as when she shoves another person out of bed. But mostly, she acquiesces to whatever is requested of her. She reasons, “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write, but I’m pretty. I can make money off of pretty.”
Refn did have two female co-writers (Mary Laws and Polly Stenham) whom he says contributed significantly to the script, but the point of view is so predominantly masculine I didn’t recognize any substantive feminine influences. I exclude the music (Cliff Martinez), cinematography (Natasha Braier), and costume design (Erin Banach) from this observation, all of which are gorgeous, and stand in contradiction to the script in artistic quality. One caveat is a scene in which beautiful, artistic shots are interspersed during an attempted rape scene. I found this offensive, but presume it was composed in the editing process.
This film is a mass of contradictions, which likely accounts for the divergent ratings of it (e.g., current Rotten Tomatoes score, 50%; and booing with clapping at its premier in Cannes). My conclusion is that the music, cinematography, costume and production design warrant an ‘A’, whereas the dramatic conception, script, and editing deserve an ‘F’. I guess I’ll go for an average, not in the sense of being so-so but because of the gap between some aspects of the film and others.
Inform yourself about this film before going to see it.
Grade: C- By Donna R. Copeland