Starring: Stanley Tucci, Alice Eve
Fred (Tucci) arrives unexpectedly at the front door of his former mistress Velvet (Eve) to tell her that he has left his wife for good. However they have not seen each other for four years and as Fred tries to rekindle the passion they once shared and Velvet rejects his advances an increasingly bitter exchange of words takes place leading to dark revelations about both of them.
Writer/ director Neil LaBute has had a strange career; He started with his scathing and deeply cynical depictions of romance and the battle of the sexes in his earlier films like In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things and Your Friends & Neighbours, but then all of a sudden in 2006 came his Nicolas Cage starring The Wicker Man. With Ellen Burstyn starring as ‘Lady SummersIsle’ that suggested it may be another film about the battle of the sexes, what it actually turned out to be was a film so bad it was funny summed up in three words: NOT…THE…BEES! Since then he has seemed to direct more mainstream films that he didn’t actually write such as Lake View Terrace and the remake of Death at a Funeral but Some Velvet Morning sees him make a return to familiar territory.
The question of course is: Is it a welcome return?
Well, first of all that would depend on whether one likes his dark dramas that predominantly feature unlikeable characters, which are without doubt an acquired taste. Though it is not up there with the biting nastiness or does not contain quite as much of a deep examination of the dark side of human nature of his earlier films, Some Velvet Morning is still a very enjoyable dark drama that is well acted and has plenty of LaBute’s trademark nasty exchanges of words.
Like a play on the screen; the film’s entire 84 minutes take place in one house with just the two characters and no music whatsoever. The character’s exchange words as they travel about the various rooms in the house and though the film never grips tightly, it is certainly never less than intriguing as to where it is going to. Though the naturalistic dialogue sometimes feels like LaBute struggling to fill what is already a lean a running time. His earlier films felt like the director having a lot to say, unfortunately Some Velvet Morning hints at ideas but never seems to develop them and go as far, as dark or as nasty as I personally would have liked it to. LaBute’s earlier films had a genuine shock factor to them and the substance to justify it, but ultimately Some Velvet Morning just lacks exactly that to be up there with his best films.
What does work in the film’s favour are the two performances, with a film of this nature it is of course a necessity for the two actors to be at the top of their game and they both deliver with aplomb. Stanley Tucci is always a charismatic screen presence and his performance makes Fred a character that is certainly intriguing to watch but also believable as a slightly unhinged man that is capable of dark deeds. Alice Eve is also exceptional; unfortunately to describe just how exceptional and complex her performance is would venture very much into spoiler territory, but her depiction of the unique character of Velvet is exceptional.
Like many LaBute films, the biggest revelations come at the end, and it is certainly an ending that may frustrate some, especially as it does threaten to undermine what has preceded it. One thing is for sure though; it certainly reconfirms LaBute as master manipulator when it comes to his stories and he is not compromising for anyone. However thanks largely to Rogier Stoffers’ cinematography the film does feel cinematic, With Velvet’s red dress and lipstick truly standing out against the white and cream interiors of the house. LeBute’s camerawork too is effective, with his editing combing quick edits and long takes very effectively to enhance the mood of a scene.
Though not up there with LaBute’s best early films, Some Velvet Morning still has enough nastiness, bitter cynicism and scathing dialogue delivered by two superb performances to be an engaging drama. Though of course an acquired taste, if you don’t like films with nasty characters and a cynical ideology then it is probably best to avoid Some Velvet Morning, for the rest of us that like to embrace the darker side of humanity then there certainly are pleasures to be had.
LaBute’s long awaited return to the subject of bitter and nasty gender wars is not quite up there with his best, but still a compelling drama. It is suitably cynical but lacks the substance or truly compelling storytelling of his best films, but thanks to two great performances and some scathing dialogue is still a deliciously dark drama.