She Thrills, He Tomcruises
Tom Cruise looks fried. I don’t blame him. If I had just frittered away three years of my life on a movie as empty, dull and bloodless as Eyes Wide Shut , I’d be fried, too. Shrouded in a crock of hype, Stanley Kubrick’s final film is finally here. It is not the “haunting, final masterpiece” the ads suggest. It is still a crock of hype, but it is also a crock of something else entirely.
This is the kind of lumbering, pretentious bore that makes critics sweat and audiences yawn, a ponderous mind-tease that you watch silently for two hours, waiting for something to happen. Nothing ever does, and after it’s over, you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve been had–by experts. Get over the blatant marketeering hoopla, the exaggerations and embellishments in the press about sex and nudity, the scandalous rumors and the outrage over the digitally superimposed figures in black cloaks and hoods blocking the view in the orgy scene to avoid a dreaded NC-17 rating, and you may just be enough of a film buff to marvel at the intricate camerawork and the professional polish of an eccentric perfectionist at the end of his ridiculously overpraised career.
But I imagine most people will flock to Eyes Wide Shut for the wrong reasons, out of curiosity value, lured by the hope of seeing Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in their birthday suits. Cancel those illusions. He never takes anything off but his shirt, and although she reveals her delicious derrière in the first scene, people saw a great deal more of her on Broadway in The Blue Room . Been there, done that. The whole movie is about a married couple fantasizing about trying to get laid by somebody else, while neither of them ever gets laid by anyone, including each other.
Based on a minor work by Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler, a friend of Sigmund Freud, Eyes Wide Shut could use Freud around to explain its obsession with sexual alienation. But even the famous interpreter of dreams himself would have a hard time convincing Tom Cruise fans why he has to spend $80 plus tip and another $100 to keep the cab waiting outside a spooky mansion on Long Island just to see a naked girl. The plot is thinner than a single-edge razor blade, and Kubrick needed the simulated sex scenes to keep the audience’s eyes wide open.
The Cruise-Kidman team appears, at first sight, to be a fabulously rich Manhattan couple living in a sumptuous Central Park West apartment (actually, a London movie set decorated to look like a sumptuous Central Park West apartment). He’s a doctor with a flourishing career. She’s a devoted wife and mother. They’ve been married nine years, they adore their 7-year-old daughter, and together they seem to be role models of wealth, compatibility, happiness and good genes. So what is wrong with this picture?
After she powders her armpits, struts naked before mirrors with erect nipples and even pees onscreen while he pays no attention, you know there’s trouble in the Porthault sheets. One night after returning from a party, she lights a joint and tells him she’s having a recurring dream about being ravaged by a handsome Navy officer she once saw during a family vacation. Fueled by jealousy, he sets out on a night of debauchery himself, cruising New York’s sexual underworld, encounters prostitutes, pedophiles, necrophilia and fag bashers, and ends up at a bizarre masquerade party where some sort of satanic orgy seems to be going on.
Narrowly escaping death, he’s glad to be home. The camera follows him like a cat’s eye through the dark living room. He turns off the Christmas tree lights. He enters the kitchen. He opens a beer. Eyes Wide Shut turns into the world’s most expensive silent movie. What’s the difference, Kubrick asks, between dreams and reality? Once you’ve entertained the idea of betrayal, can you ever be trusted again? Ms. Kidman says what the hell. They survived, and their eyes are now wide open. Never mind that the audience’s eyes are now wide shut. “Let’s fuck,” she says. Fade to black.
While you are recovering from the absurdity of what you’ve just seen, your mind is working overtime. Which role was Jennifer Jason Leigh supposed to play? Is that really Thomas Gibson in a walk-on? No wonder Harvey Keitel walked. Sydney Pollack, his replacement, explains the whole 20 seconds of the film’s plot in a scene so clumsily written it is laughable, while Mr. Keitel made three other films between pauses.
Never have I seen so many tangential scenes or so many tertiary characters dragged in to pad a movie into two and a half hours of unnecessary tedium, all framed by a different kind of Christmas tree. The second-unit cameras occasionally intrude with shots of actual New York skyscrapers, but they aren’t even the same color as the fake streets in London. The Long Island mansion where the orgy scene is set looks more like Westminster Abbey than any house in Glen Cove. And what’s that nightmarish orgy about, anyway? A bunch of masked zombies dancing around to “Strangers in the Night” is about as titillating as a Junior League tea in Greenwich. Mr. Cruise glides through the undulating bodies in a series of continual camera pans, but the scene is so phony that Kubrick’s vision of Dante’s Inferno looks more like a tour of Plato’s Retreat. You find yourself more interested in the composition of the shots than what’s actually going on in them. As one London critic points out, it’s a film made by a man who didn’t get out much.
Woefully miscast, Mr. Cruise lacks the depth and maturity required for the role of a man facing a midlife sex crisis, and the range he’s displayed in previous films has thinned considerably. The role isn’t there, of course, so there isn’t much for even a veteran actor to play. It exists on recycled air, but that’s a poor excuse for sleepwalking. It was probably a mistake to play opposite his wife; Ms. Kidman is far and away the better actor. Toying with unfaithfulness, she has marvelous moments of revelation, and watching her break up thoughts like breadsticks while the crumbs fall is often downright thrilling. Especially since she has a smaller role. While he’s out Tomcruising, she has little more to do than interrupt him on his cell phone. How she manages to make a nothing role seem more important than it was on paper is one of the film’s more pleasurable acts of valor.
One can only hope there’s more chemistry between this married couple offscreen than the evidence provided here. What did they see in this mopey, moribund script in the first place? There’s nothing remotely erotic about them or the movie. You’re likely to leave the cinema with the uneasy feeling you’ve been cheated into paying for a sniggering riddle nobody is willing to solve.
Kubrick was a director with confidence and vision, but Eyes Wide Shut is so icy and mannered and utterly without focus, it seems more the work of a great director shuffling papers. It’s cotton candy–delicious to the taste, but when it’s gone you’re stuck with an empty paper cone.
Don’t Miss Twiggy, Wit
Classing up the Off-Broadway scene, Twiggy offers a swell way to get into the air-conditioning in If Love Were All , a swellegant, elegant little musical about the lifelong friendship between Gertie Lawrence and Noël Coward. Although Noël died 20 years after his beloved pal and singing partner, the show serves as a memory piece for Noël (Harry Groener) to reminisce about her imperishable magic, and a personality piece for Twiggy to demonstrate some magic of her own.
No longer flat-chested and tomboyish, she is a fully matriculated graduate of trendy fame who has developed into a seasoned pro. The show itself, a frothy revue of strung-together Coward songs, sometimes seems like a clumsy excuse for Twiggy to show off her passion for tap dancing (a talent the real Gertie never shared) but she is a joy to watch and hear, time-stepping like Ruby Keeler and singing in a throaty voice that combines Marlene Dietrich’s vibrato with Vera Lynn’s British clarity. She is especially effective when torching something called “The 20th-Century Blues” and in her white satin cling dresses and bobbed hair she looks glamorously and uncannily like Carole Lombard. It’s appealing to see a healthy, happy woman with a sweet bulge instead of an anorexic bone where her tummy should go (for pure horror, see Calista Flockhart in Bash ).
Mr Groener dances adequately but doesn’t have much of a voice, but that’s just fine. Neither did Noël. From “Mad About the Boy” to “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” the old favorites are well served, as well as a few lesser known gems like “London Pride.” If Love Were All leaves you wondering where all that sophistication and finesse went and wishing it would all come back. Thank you, Twiggy, for reminding us what we missed.
You have until Aug. 8 to see the brilliant Kathleen Chalfant in her celebrated outing in Wit . Foolishly, I avoided this play all year about a poetry professor dying bravely and defiantly of ovarian cancer. Happily, I can now heartily concur with the army of critics who have thrown roses at Ms. Chalfant’s feet already. She is devastating and the play is a positive, life-affirming revelation.
Applying the principles of poetry to the quality of life remaining, Ms. Chalfant plays a woman of strength and resolve who analyzes her losing battle intellectually instead of giving in to self-pity, leavening humiliation with indignation and cruelty with humor. The curiosity, courage and passion of a scholarly mind defeat the depressing approach usually taken on the subject and Ms. Chalfant’s honesty and range is generously optimistic and inspirational. It is one of the great star turns of the season, and you’d be mad to miss it.