Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a strange exercise in style that succumbs to the worst tendencies of “edgy” independent fare. There are some interesting ideas in the script, and some interesting performances that sell them, and some interesting visual choices, but its ambitions vastly outreach its execution, not least because John Krasinski’s direction is almost entirely unconnected to the film he’s shooting.
For instance, the film is beautifully elliptical, eliding passages, fading out aurally while holding the shot, building to a near climactic monologue by Dominic Cooper that is punctuated with moments from throughout the film. But to what purpose? Is this merely a reflection of source author David Foster Wallace’s digressive postmodernism? Why so literal, John?
I mentioned some interesting ideas contained within the film, but there’s really only one especially fresh argument: that victims of rape or abuse can benefit from their attacks, for example by appreciating their survival and learning the important lesson that some people view others as objects. The implication is that trauma happens every day and to everyone at some point; nobody is special in that regard, so nobody can lay claim to trauma as an excuse for certain behaviors. I’m not sure the film is really interested in exploring this idea. As the main character says, it’s shocking for shock’s sake.
The film is certainly uninterested in actually examining, as it purports, the effects of the feminist movement on the modern man. Can we please put a moratorium on all talk of “the male psyche,” critics? How intellectually lazy to frame this film in terms of a unified sexual psyche, as if all men have the same essential psychological influences. Instead, Brief Interviews is a collection of artificial literary monologues loosely connected by the theme of man reacting to a culture of political correctness by moving his predatory instincts below the surface, hiding behind a sympathetic injury or self-help jargon or a shoulder to cry on. Men still want to take advantage of women; it’s just more covert now.
Obviously this is the epitome of a straw man, a writer inventing a series of hideous men with which to indict the sex, and I assume David Foster Wallace knows this, and I also suspect he knows there is such a thing as gay men, as well as the mythical straight male of integrity. So I’m not sure what exactly the point was, given this territory has been much better covered by Polanski in Repulsion and elsewhere, and I’m less sure John Krasinski knows. There are some fascinating moments in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. If only it were interested in exploring them.