Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 10:37 am 
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Unfun summer

Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth (coming hard upon Noah Baumbach's more cheerful Mistress America) is a serious disappointment after his previous film, Listen Up Philip. Playing the unfortunate "Qeeen," an egocentric, spoiled woman whose world is crumbling, is Elizabeth Moss. Moss is best known as the beleaguered but successful female ad exec in the celebrated HBO TV series "Mad Men." More to the point, Moss got dumped at the outset of Perry's previous film, Listen Up Philip, by the film's young literary egomaniac, Jason Schwartzman. Did she know that film was satire? Did Perry know that his depiction of two generations of male literary meanness was serous fun? Either way, the fun is gone here, and there's not quite enough to replace it.

Here's the premise. Catherine (Moss), who's spent her life managing the affairs of her father, a "famous artiste," is already devastated by his suicide, when she is dumped by her boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley). To recuperate she stays with her best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) at the latter's rich parent's beautiful summer house by the water. But she finds she can no longer stand Virginia, and she is enraged by Virginia's connecting with a neighbor, Rich (Patrick Fugit). As time goes on, Queen of Earth turns almost, but not quite, into a horror film as Catherine flashes back on earlier days, mostly the year before, and becomes increasingly unhinged.

On the one hand, though Perry's dp's penchant for jittery extreme closeups continues to annoy, this is quality stuff. The dialogue and the acting have a serious indie edge. On the other hand, who does Perry think he is, some Nordic master? Anthony Lane's summing-up goes thus: "For some viewers, the acidity level of Perry’s movie will be too high to stomach. For others — anyone who thinks that there are too many warm hugs in Strindberg, for example — Queen of Earth awaits." Lane may accurately profile the ideal audience for this movie. But if Perry was really trying to out-Strindberg Strindberg, he's not up to the task. Without the many scene changes offered in Listen Up Philip and the deft skewering of male vanity and meanness, Queen of Earth lacks sharp dramatic action or depth of character development.

Clearly Elizabeth Moss has a knack for suffering and borderline hysteria. There's a raw realness about her acting. As Peggy Olson, she held held one's attention without being particularly appealing; that was the realness. But who does she think she is? Surely no LIv Ullmann or Bibi Andersson; she hasn't that sex appeal or that depth. But she's getting a lot of work. One of her upcoming movie releases is a new version of Chekhov's The Seagull.

It would be wrong to underestimate this movie. For some, those finding too many warm hugs in Strindberg, those looking for a slightly new angle on the angst-ridden summer stay, Queen of Earth might be devastating, and leave one wrecked.

But there are things that don't work for me, apart from seriously missing the sardonic edge of Listen Up Philip and not finding the increasingly cloying Elizabeth Moss a compensation. The movie is divided up into days of the week indicated by prettily lettered inter-titles (Perry has a penchant for graphics); but they don't mean anything since each is cut up with flashbacks. Datelines or no, there is little semblance of a plot; and inner deterioration can only be sketchily depicted in the absence of solid objective correlatives. The characters are under-developed, the backstories sketchy. Moss holds the attention, but one's time is not rewarded by a growing understanding of her character. Perry's writing doesn't give us much to work with for any of these characters. The dead father is just "an artiste." James barely registers. Waterston's performance confuses and falls flat. All we get from her are looks of droopy sympathy for Catherine; however much her character gets provoked, there's not much modulation into anything else. Patric Fugit alone surprises as Rich -- smug, annoying, but then as Catherine goes over-the-top starting to seem the only sane person in the room. But his lines are only an effort to make up the exposition of Moss's character that the writing fails to give her.

One would not want to say Queen isn't intelligent, however less stimulating to the mind as well as the funny-bone this latest outing is. Perry is still going his indie way. But exactly what way is his way?

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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