MRR Review: "Some Velvet Morning"

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Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve star in an independent romantic drama film written and directed by Neil LaBute. Velvet (Eve) is enjoying a tranquil morning when Fred (Tucci) walks into her brownstone and tells her he’s finally left his wife to be with her. Of course, Velvet hasn't seen him in four years… and now happens to be sleeping with his married son.
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MRR Review: "Some Velvet Morning"

Rating: Not Rated
Length: 82 minutes
Release Date: December 10, 2013
Directed by: Neil LaBute
Genre: Drama

Neil LaBute is an auteur whose reputation precedes him. In his work, audiences expect a few things, among them the exposure of highly troubled heterosexual relationships, a narrative that isn't afraid of dwelling on the uglier side of things, often willfully seeking out such places for revelation, and characters as angry and frustrated as they are tired and proud of such anger and frustration. As for the language these characters speak, it is going to be as spare as it is sometimes bleak and as harsh as it is sometimes poetic. If you believe several critics both of film and theater, where LaBute has had variant success with a string of plays, you're also going to get a big dose of misanthropy, a dash of misogyny, and a couple of cupfuls of alienation.

At first glance, LaBute seems not to disappoint on any of these fronts with his new film "Some Velvet Morning." The characters in his new film are, in equal parts, despairing and dysfunctional, as unlikable as they are unknowable. Fred is a middle-aged, well-dressed man, who for all outward appearances would blend into the scenery of the upper-middle class Brooklyn setting where the story takes place. He is adroitly played by the versatile Stanley Tucci, who seems gleeful and almost too eager to reveal each and every detail of the character's psychosis. As with many of LaBute's characters, Fred has set things off by making a desperate move. He has left his wife, and suitcase in hand, he arrives at the doorstep of his former mistress, who he hasn't seen in four years, to try to rekindle their romance.

You would think that such a character would already begin deep in the minus column of any power dynamic. It has been four years. The mistress has surely forgotten about him. She must have started a new life, taken a new lover, or maybe she's married with kids; her elegant townhouse is in the baby capital of Brooklyn, Park Slope. Poor Fred—what a chump. Things might start like that in a film not made by LaBute, who makes sure the audience knows none of those things are true of the mistress. The film opens with a shot of her lounging in the spacious townhouse, her aloneness not just symbolic, but physical. She is lounging, as if waiting for him to come to the door, although we see this isn't so when she opens the door and in a very obvious tableau futilely tries to stop him from invading her aloneness. She fails remarkably and spends the rest of the film trying to regain whatever power she may have held while lounging on the sofa. Fred no longer seems like such a chump. He has broken into her home. He wants to get back together with her. He wants most of all to have sex with her. And the more the ex-mistress denies him, the more frustrated and seemingly volatile Fred grows, giving the audience a sense they're watching the prelude to a rape. This feeling is heightened by the fact that we only know the mistress by the sexually charged nickname Fred has given her, Velvet.

It is not exactly clear when this feeling abates, or truly if it ever really takes root, because LaBute is not through playing with the audience's expectations, alienating some of them, as some of the critics mentioned above might say. Perhaps it is the assuredness with which Velvet can deny Fred, the way she starts to match his insults and his attempts at demeaning revelations about her past, but in a more regal way, as if she is only doing it in self-defense, because she has been pushed, regaining some of the mysterious power drawn from her aloneness that made her so unmistakable in the opening frames. The audience may not feel fear and pity for Fred now that the power dynamics have been equalized, and this is partly because Fred has given the audience nothing it can root for, except maybe that if these two are going to be with anybody, they should be with each other and no one else; they would devour any mere mortal they might meet on Match.com.

Just as we are getting ready to watch these two monsters flay themselves alive until neither one is recognizable, LaBute seemingly decides the audience hasn't been alienated enough, it needs to be a bit further removed from the chilled emotions now coursing through this Brooklyn home at such intensity that they could well crack the brownstones. He forces the audience even further back emotionally, so they may look more closely and bravely at modern romance.

Rating: 3 out of 5