Thursday, March 15, 2012

Quality time

So, I'm back from my hiatus, having (mostly) moved into my new apartment, which means now I spend a lot of time stubbing my toes on unfamiliarly-placed furniture and being unable to find things, since my goal of keeping things neatly put away in drawers results in my forgetting where the hell I put them. I really do hate moving, having had to do so much of it as a kid, but there is something about having to reorient yourself that makes you pay attention to things in a new way. I theorize that this is behind the reason my hamster compulsively moved her bedding to a new corner of the cage every few days.

But, one cool thing about my new neighborhood is that I'm within walking distance of a little movie theater, so yesterday I took myself to the movies. It was an impulsive decision, so I was limited to what happened to be playing right then, but I'd been meaning to watch We Need To Talk About Kevin for a while anyway, and it was a great way to avoid having to unpack yet another box.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a movie that manages to fail despite the presence of two excellent actors (Tilda Swinton as Eva and John C. Reilly as her husband, Franklin) and Ezra Miller's (as teenage Kevin) epic bone structure. Hobbled by intrusive and nausea-inducing camerawork, unnecessary flashbacks, a disjointed narrative, and several cringe-inducing and overstyled scenes that look like the editor had just discovered iMovie, it's a difficult movie to sit through, and not because of the subject matter.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is based on Lionel Shriver's epistolary novel of the same name, written as a series of letters from Eva Khatchadourian to her husband, Franklin. Ambivalent about her pregnancy, Eva, an intrepid traveler and author, finds herself resenting her difficult son and her nesty husband, who insists they move to the suburbs. Kevin is a horror from infancy, colicky and combative, and becomes increasingly sadistic as he gets older.

Young Kevin (played by Jasper Newell) would make a good Damien understudy. His behavior is so over the top and the film makes him so menacing that you expect him to crab-walk down the stairs or vomit split pea soup over a priest at any moment, which makes you wonder why they don't pack him off to Fork Union or a psychiatrist. Forget troubled teen, this one looks like he'd give Dahmer a run for his money.

This had always bothered me about the novel, too. Kevin's always been a sociopath, which makes him more of a force of nature, like an avalanche or a tiger, than a child, and his eventual actions seem inevitable, which kind of tanks any feelings of suspense. Miller does what he can with the film's limited material, but he may as well be rubbing his hands together and twirling a moustache as he plans his coup de grace.

That's not to say the film doesn't have impact. It does, especially when the director gives the shaky camerawork and clunky visual metaphors (seriously, how many times do we need to see Eva scrubbing red paint off of her hands? She feels guilty, we get it.) a rest and lets the actors act, which unfortunately doesn't happen as often as it should. Instead, the acting takes second place to the cinematography, which drains the film of the visceral impact it could have had.

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