Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Last Time I Was Really Happy... I Got So Fat.

There you go. Happy = fat.


Back in 1989, a film was playing in West Berlin (the Allied controlled section) when the wall came down. People from East Berlin went into the cinema expecting to see some serious Western porn, but left sorely disappointed. What was that film? Why, Sex, Lies and Videotape of course!

Steven Soderbergh's debut feature won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1989, and announced the appearance on the world stage of someone who would go on to become one of the most recognised directors in the world - though it took until the one-two of Erin Brokovich and Traffic in 2000 and the huge commercial success of Ocean's Eleven the following year to really cement that status.

Sex, Lies and Videotape features four main characters. Ann (Andie MacDowell) is married to John (Peter Gallagher), who is having an affair with Ann's sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo in her credited feature debut.) An old school friend of John's comes to town, and the appearance of Graham (James Spader, who won Best Actor at Cannes and then, curiously, only picked up an Independent Spirit nomination elsewhere) throws that curious three-way relationship into turmoil. Ann initially dislikes Graham, but after they go apartment hunting his wily ways win her over and they start a sort of friendship, briefly, which ends once she discovers a pile of video tapes in his home. He quite honestly tells her that they are tapes of women talking about sex, their history, desires, fantasies, anything really, and this freaks her out a little. Cynthia, quite the little hornbag, meanwhile, is fascinated by this new friend of her sister and tracks him down, flirting outrageously (as is her wont) and then making her own tape for him. It is this tape and Graham's honesty that bring the truth of Cynthia and John's relationship out into the open - she confesses it on the tape, knowing that Graham won't let anyone else see it. But when Ann begins to suspect the affair, she mentions it to Graham, and he confirms it.

I won't go any further into the plot for fear of giving away what little remains a secret. All of the performances are reasonably strong, but San Giacomo was by far the standout. Her sultry, slutty sister was perfect. The other three were all fine, nothing overly exemplary, but she was fantastic. I've always loved watching her pop up in films like Pretty Woman, but it's a pity she never got to really show her chops like this again.

The film is an interesting one. I don't really think it's a brilliant film, more of an excellent exercise. That's what it felt like to me. I wasn't particularly riveted by what was going on in the film as much as I was riveted by how it was going on. The form of the film was more interesting than the content, I think, which was really quite stock-standard. Thematically, nothing was pushed, but structurally it was fascinating. I think that's what I'm trying to say. I'm remembering the film more fondly for how it played out than the specifics of what played out.

Gah, I'm not even making sense to myself. It's an interesting film, worth the watch, but I went in expecting fireworks (though not porn!) and got something entirely different. 3.5 stars.

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