This is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis Movie Review

"My problem was being a young man with money in Manhattan," says Bret Easton Ellis, citing his inspiration for American Psycho. When it comes to vivid fantasies of alienated urban narcissism, his prose strikes a chilling, edgy chord. Like skimming the surface of an icy lake, we are left imagining the dark depths below.

Hey, that really sounds poetic! I'm gonna have another Valium before writing the rest of this review -- maybe someday I'll be as glib as Ellis!

Just kidding. I've actually enjoyed reading Ellis' novels of passive emptiness. Less Than Zero is the perfect book for road trips, especially when you look out the window having thoughts that resemble the shallow characters. "Ah, yes, adolescence truly is a volatile mystery!"

Having said that, Ellis prose typically comes off as, well, boring, glib, pseudo-intellectual, snooty, irritating, and shallow when read aloud. Try reading passages to your friends. Watch them lose interest in you as a human being. Don't scoff! If you were in their shoes, you would, too! Heck, you probably will if you attempt to sit through Gerald Fox's unintentionally grating documentary, This is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis.

Fox tries to pull off the imaginative conceit of crossing interview footage of Ellis with dramatizations from his body of work, including Less Than Zero and his recent perils-of-celebrity bestseller, Glamorama. It's like a kaleidoscope of short films with additional commentary from the novelist. Unfortunately for Ellis, he's so smug, creepy, and annoying that he does his novels a disservice by appearing onscreen. Potential readers will take one look at this privileged brat and understandably vow never to read him.

I haven't even started discussing Ellis' whiny friends, hogging for screen time as they take a limo cruise through New York City searching for the perfect restaurant. It's scary that his unimaginative fictional characters bear such a scary resemblance to his actual peers. When one of them compares him to Orson Welles ("cuz you're a big genius, Bret!"), I wanted to slap that pompous grin off his mug.

Okay, maybe I'm jealous that I don't have Ellis' problems. Beautiful friends, a fat wallet, the inability to see through my own vapidity. Maybe I'm being too hard on the guy. Gotta calm my nerves before I finish this review. Pass the cocaine.

A bottom-of-the-barrel budget doesn't help illuminate the scenes lifted from Ellis' novels. Rough, jarring cuts and washed out cinematography are completely inappropriate for the polished world his characters inhabit. The bland white walls and inept lighting could have been easily better-realized by inexperienced first year film students.

The poorly staged Ellis stories serve as a reminder of how right Mary Harron's instincts were on American Psycho. By dwelling on impeccable art design, tailored suits, embossed business cards and designer glasses, she found the precise visual counterpart to Ellis' hyper-detailed take on consumer culture.

Bored, introverted characters with zero empathy can be compelling on the page, but it doesn't always translate to the screen. Christian Bale's mannered performance as Psycho's killer Patrick Bateman was appropriately deadpan. Would that Declan Thurman (Uma's brother) showed such restraint filling the same role in Exit. He blows line readings with a distracting assortment of eyebrow and lip twitches. See, I'm really crazy! There's nothing hammy about Ellis' sparse writing style, so why can't Thurman resist maniacal laughter when describing a girl's head on a stick?

By discussing the "meaning" of his books, Ellis only winds up reducing them to facile morality lessons. He also eats up screen time defending his prose from vicious critics, often protesting far too much for comfort. I don't hate women! American Psycho is a feminist tract! Less Than Zero was not autobiographical! It's a sensationalized version of my post-college years.

This vain little man seems to care an awful lot about what people think of him. Oh, go ahead! Try telling him that and he'll retreat back into a banal shell of doublespeak. As one critic points out, it's almost impossible to discuss Ellis' flaws without him embracing them as part of his integrity. Of course it's shallow, of course it's nihilistic! That's the world he created. See how slippery he is?

What was that great Bill Murray quote from Rushmore? "Money can buy a lot of things, but it can't buy you backbone. Take dead aim at the rich kids!" I don't think I ever truly appreciated that slice of wisdom until Ellis got in my face. Hey Bret: here's a quarter. Go call someone who cares. And pass the amphetamines. Fast. You're losing me.


Comments

This is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: NR, 2000

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