Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Abuse of Weakness, Jealousy, Frank, If I Stay, The Olivia Experiment

Abuse of Weakness


If I Stay
The Olivia Experiment

A great performance by a French legend highlights a poor week in film:

In Catherine Breillat's semi-autobiographical "Abuse of Weakness," Isabelle Huppert plays Maud Shainberg, a director who suffers a stroke from which she spends most of a year slowly recovering. Watching TV in bed, she comes across an interview with Vilko Piran (French rapper Kool Shen), a con man lately out of stir for bilking hundreds of millions of Euros from the rich and famous. Maud is fascinated by Vilko's lack of repentance, and has to have him for her new picture. As you might gather from the title, she becomes his next victim. Breillat plays with erotically potent themes - shifting power dynamics, financial domination, loss of control - but devotes too much of her film to Maud's physical difficulties and not enough to the mind games between her and Vilko. Still, I recommend "Abuse of Weakness" on the strength of Huppert's superb, fully committed performance… I checked out early in Philippe Garrel's black-and-white "Jealousy," about an actor (the director's son and frequent star Louis) who leaves his wife and daughter to move into a studio apartment with his castmate girlfriend (deep-voiced Anna Mouglalis). Despite running only 77 minutes, this picture bored me to tears; if anything, it's a testament to children's superior adaptability to domestic lives in flux… The only question is where, not whether, Lenny Abrahamson's "Frank" will appear on my year-end worst list. In one of the steepest comedowns in memory, Michael Fassbender has chosen, as his follow-up to "12 Years a Slave," this aggressively annoying, painfully unfunny piece of performance art that would get the hook at a campus open mic night. He plays Frank, the huge-fake-head-sporting lead singer of a band called the Soronprfbs, and if that intentionally unpronounceable name inspires hilarity in you, you may be the one person in the movie's target audience. Happy-to-be-here Domhnall Gleeson (from last year's one-star "About Time"), son of Brendan (from this year's one-star "Calvary"), co-stars as Jon, a garage musician who accidentally becomes the group's new keyboardist (two others died). There's also Maggie Gyllenhaal, typecast as cunty Clara, the theremin player (har har) who battles Jon for Frank's favor; Scoot McNairy as Don, the manager; and a couple Frenchies who hate everyone. It's a hateful movie. The songs are fingernails-on-a-chalkboard bad, but not in a clever or amusing way or a way that makes us believe the band believes they're good. The sense of humor falls in an unhappy nether region between slapstick and surrealism. Abrahamson's insights into social media and the nature of fame aren't… Documentarian R.J. Cutler's misbegotten YA weepie "If I Stay" makes "The Fault in Our Stars" look like "Casbalanca"; the earlier film is so much sharper and more truthful, with a performance by Shailene Woodley that puts the nondescript Chloe Grace Moretz to shame. Moretz is Mia Hall, a teenage cello prodigy from Portland, Oregon, who falls in love with Adam Wilde (yes, it's that kind of picture), an infinitesimally edgy guitarist (Jamie Blackley) with a rising local rock band called Willamette Stone. Mia's family life - ex-rocker parents (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos) and towhead younger brother - is almost eerily content, and she's waiting to hear from Juilliard, when a car accident on an icy road leaves all three dead and Mia on life support. She spends the rest of the movie as a sort of specter, reliving scenes from her romance with Adam and watching her friends and grandparents sit by her bedside as she clings to life. The hospital scenes are dramatically inert wastes of time, and Shauna Cross's dialogue careens from avowals of love so sappy they'd cause the Hallmark Channel to take a pass to unmodulated momentousness that made the teenage girls next to me break out in giggles. Only Enos injects a bit of context and quietude into a mountains-out-of-molehills movie that loses sight of what really is life-and-death… The less said, the better about a crude and jaw-droppingly unfunny comedy called "The Olivia Experiment," in which Olivia, a Berkeley gender-studies grad student and 27-year-old virgin (Skye Noel Smith in a skin-crawlingly tetchy performance) accepts her best friend's (wholly incredible) offer to sleep with her well-hung boyfriend (unkempt Brett Baumayr), an act Olivia asks her lesbian friend C.J. (Michelynne McGuire) to videotape. The movie is 90 minutes of false starts punctuated by commiserations with Olivia's flamboyant roommate (Dan Gordon), his equally faggy new boyfriend, and her zaftig mother, who takes her top off and throws herself on top of both boys, as well as periodic visits from Olivia's creepy neighbor (Kyle S. More), himself so neurotic he can barely function, who is therefore of course perfect for her. It's the sort of movie where Olivia, TA'ing an inattentive class, blurts, "I'm sick and tired of you cocksuckers!" and her academic advisor merely notes, "We can't have a repeat of that performance." You might say.

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