There is one scene in Clean that sticks out to me. A supremely-groggy Nick Nolte sits at a small fast food joint and gets a small salad and water while Maggie Cheung (playing his widowed daughter-in-law) goes up to the counter and orders a monster burger, french fries, and onion rings with a large coke. It's her first real meal since getting out of prison and it's his first meal with her for god knows how long. There's a lot of symbolism, even though it's simple, being used in the scene, and it gives depth to a complicated relationship (everyone thinks she Courtney-Loved her rocker boyfriend). How did director Olivier Assayas, a seasoned pro, allow this to be one of the scant few scenes that hold any real fascination? Furthermore, how did he allow himself to write something so damn drab and insipid?
Emily (Cheung) spends the first 15 minutes of the film being the annoying Yoko to Lee (Nick Cave dead ringer and cohort James Johnston), an aging rocker trying to get a deal for his anthology. She gets nabbed for heroin possession just when she finds Lee's body but is saved by Lee's manager. Out of jail after a quick stint, she meets with Albrecht (Nolte), her father-in-law who has been raising her son Jay with his wife. It's apparent to all involved (besides Jay) that Emily needs to get clean, get a job, and take custody of her child. The journey is held up by a brief stint in Paris where she still takes pills, gets fired from a job and finally begins to detox after her musician friend Tricky (playing himself) ignores her requests for help with the custody issue.
Continue reading: Clean Review
The DVD case for The Republic of Love engages in a little harmless misinformation. The film is not actually based on a Pulitzer Price-winning novel. It's based on a book written by someone (Carol Shields), who wrote another book (The Stone Diaries), which did win a Pulitzer.
That's some comfort, too, because I can't fathom how a middle-aged romantic tragicomedy like this could possibly win a major award.
At its core is a story of a radio talk show host Tom (Bruce Greenwood) and "mermaid researcher" girlfriend Faye (Emilia Fox). Tom has a string of divorces behind him, the result of being too anxious to fall in love with every girl he meets. Faye is gunshy -- it seems that all of Tom's ex-wives are friends of hers. (And, strangely, she's never met him?)
None of this is played for laughs, really. We're supposed to feel bad for Tom and pine for he and Faye to find something lasting amidst an environment of bleak winter, dysfunctional families, and dying geriatrics. Cold and detached, it's hard to get behind either of these characters, who not only don't seem very right for each other, they don't seem very right for anyone. Case in point: When Tom is jogging with a friend, the guy (right next to him) collapses and keels over dead. Tom doesn't notice: He's distracted by a billboard with his face on it, concerned with the size of his nostrils. As for Faye: A mermaid researcher? I can't put my finger on it, but something just doesn't gel there.
Director Deepa Mehta does nothing to make this palatable. In fact, she goes out of her way to distance us from the story and the characters, most notably through washing the entire movie into total gray, giving it just a hint of color (in the end, the movie brightens up in a particularly awful scene that has animated flowers growing over the frame). Wintry symbolism has never felt so forced -- and in a film that ought to have been played as a romantic comedy, it's never been more out of place, either.
This film is one of Film Movement's simultaneous theatrical/DVD releases -- but I can't find any theater that's showing it. Film Movement is also the sole distributor of its DVDs -- releasing one a month -- so you can't usually get them at Amazon. This one's the exception.