The first 80 minutes or so of this long-winded, 82-minute two-hander, written and directed by playwright Neil LaBute, finds the playwright up to his old familiar tricks in the war between vain, self-centered men and the women they abuse. I was so tired of looking at my watch that I almost left. Then, as the overhead bubbles in comic books declare when a cartoon character has a sudden inspiration,—Zam! Powie! Pop! The movie has a surprise twist ending that springs to life, justifying everything dull that goes ahead of the final revelation. It’s quite an exercise in original thinking, good writing and unorthodox filmmaking.
Unfortunately, the surprise comes too late, and the experience is too much like a filmed stage play with no intermission. The two actors who bring it to life are the terrific Stanley Tucci and the incandescent Alice Eve. He has left his wife to arrive unexpectedly at her doorstep with all of his luggage, hoping to move in and rekindle an old affair that ended abruptly. She is not pleased to see him. While he stands awkwardly in his trench coat in the entrance foyer, she plays with her hair and stumbles for the right words. They move outside and sit on a bench. We learn they once had an affair but haven’t seen each other in years. They talk incessantly to avoid any revelation of true feelings, saying nothing of any consequence. “You’re a bit pushy about things, and it’s a little bit unnerving,” she says. “My nerves are shot today, and I really want you to see me at my best,” he counters. “It’s fine, it’s O.K.,” she offers. “No, it’s actually not OK. It’s not. I mean, if it were O.K., I would be saying to you, ‘Hey, you know what? This is O.K.’ But actually this is not an O.K. moment for me—O.K.?” The small talk goes on incessantly. She used to date his son, who introduced them. It’s obvious she feels uneasy and remote, but he refuses to leave no matter how many times she asks him to go. He wants sex. She’s late for a luncheon appointment. It all leads to violence and near rape. Mr. LaBute, you tell yourself, has spent entirely too much time watching his own plays. Then a crash, like the sound of a body falling through a glass window, and nothing is what it seems, neither character is who you thought they were, and the thrill is electrifying.
Stanley Tucci is good at this sort of intimate dual analysis. He co-starred on Broadway stark naked with Edie Falco in the successful revival of Terrence McNally’s two-character play, Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune, and from his impressive gallery of offbeat characters on film, it’s clear that there’s nothing he can’t play. Alice Eve is a good match, although she doesn’t always articulate clearly. They’re fine, but the film is a sad example of what sometimes happens when a writer of gripping stage plays controls his own independent movie to his own selfish, labored self-satisfaction. The result is a small idea (what happens to the residue of a dead relationship) stretched into almost an hour and a half of style over content. My advice is stick it out. If you’re patience doesn’t wear out, the movie culminates in that clever shock ending that not only explains everything but gives what you’ve just seen a rewarding jolt.
SOME VELVET MORNING
WRITTEN BY Neil LaBute
DIRECTED BY Neil LaBute
STARRING Alice Eve and Stanley Tucci
RUNNING TIME 82 min.