A model takes the LA fashion scene by storm, attracting unsavory characters.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, and Bella Heathcoate
Review by Jon Kissel
Nicolas Winding Refn works at two opposite poles, with raw crime stories at one end and deliberately frosty exercises in audience estrangement at the other. Whether he’s making Drive or Valhalla Rising, there’s always going to be a mostly silent protagonist surrounded by people Refn largely doesn’t like and a lot of red, both in the lighting or as an aftereffect from some grotesque act of violence. For the Danish director’s 10th film, The Neon Demon is a balanced medium between what makes him compelling and frustrating. It tells a coherent story with recognizable people in it, but it also contains surrealist touches that are included because why the hell not. A film set in fashion and modeling is going to have the requisite amount of style and misanthropy, because making fun of the fashion world is low hanging fruit. That I can describe a film with corpse fondling and cannibalism as middle-of-the-road suggests what kind of filmmaker Refn is.
Darren Aronofsky is a director who lives in the extremity of human experience, for good and ill. Something like Requiem for a Dream tracks the depths that people are willing to descend to for their narrow definition of happiness, while his self-described Perfection duo, The Wrestler and Black Swan, are both about performers dedicated to feats of physical excellence despite the damage this does to their psyches and bodies. He’s also an obvious devotee of body horror master David Cronenberg, a guy who made his bones by taking the psychological ailments of his characters and manifesting them in decaying flesh and pulsing tumors. Black Swan is Cronenbergian body horror shot through with Aronofsky’s bravura directorial flourishes, a film about transformation and transcendence that includes breathtaking moment after breathtaking moment. It’s also campy and melodramatic and soapy, and maybe sexist depending how one views it. Nine years after its release, Black Swan is still a thrilling and powerful watch that holds up cinematically even as I wonder if it holds up thematically.
The 21st century golden age TV shows have introduced the culturally aware to the idea of the ‘bad fan,’ the usually misogynist viewer who takes exactly the wrong message from whatever they’re watching. Rick and Morty has them, clogging up Twitter and reddit with gibberish about how much they see themselves in Rick and remembering how awesome the show was before women were hired in the writer’s room. The era’s inaugural hit, The Sopranos, had them until the end, perpetually wondering when a series that started in a therapist’s office was going to erupt in a bloodbath between mobsters and missing Russians. Breaking Bad had the most vocal bad fans, prompting series co-star Anna Gunn to write an op-ed defending her character from morons who chose to interpret a megalomaniac’s evil deeds as a beaten-down man living into his most empowered self. The showrunners and creators of all three aforementioned shows disavowed their bad fans, but in two of the three cases (David Chase wrote his disdain for fans of all kinds into his show), there are traces of blood in the water that kept them going.
I came upon an article through a link in a recent Atlantic or Slate article that I suspect Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, the writers of Good Boys, may also have read. The article, located at The Good Men Project, a clearinghouse for the expression of 21st century masculinity, reviewed a book about adolescent male friendships, friendships that the author categorized as affectionate and intimate in a way that no one would categorize older teen or adult friendships. Through hundreds of interviews across classes and races, the author was herself surprised at the language the boys used to describe their closest friends, and the review placed that plainly expressed love against the loneliness and resultant ‘deaths of despair’ that have lowered the US life expectancy for the first time in modern history. Both the review and the book redefine that loneliness as mourning for that childhood emotional intimacy, which for many men, isn’t replicated ever again. Is Good Boys a good or thoughtful enough movie to generate that kind of comparison or global psychological interrogation? Amidst all the dildos and dislocated shoulders, the answer is… sort of. Eisenberg and Stupnitsky, with the latter directing, effectively remake Superbad for the tween set, adding enough mournfulness to the foul-mouthed gags and making the resultant film deep enough to persist once the laughs have died down.
I like to think of myself as open-minded enough that the phrase ‘this movie is not for me’ doesn’t apply. I can generally get on board with a film pitched at any audience, about any segment of the population, and find something to appreciate or a problem that doesn’t simply distill down into an inability to ‘get’ it. Live-action musicals might be the exception to the rule. Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music were both in regular rotation in my parents’ home, and they always kept me at arm’s length. I just can’t get onto their whimsical wavelength, and it’s persisted through the modern musicals of Rob Marshall like Chicago and Mary Poppins Returns. A decades-later sequel to a film I’ve at least come to respect, Mary Poppins Returns gets minimal credit for not simply being an updated shot-for-shot remake of an old Disney property a la The Lion King, but that credit doesn’t count for much when it’s applied to a member of my least favorite genre.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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