Tuesday, February 27, 2018

SUBMISSION: Richard Levine's timely and unsettling adaptation of a Francine Prose novel

Perfectly timed to the current Me2 movement, though not in quite the manner you might expect, the new film by director/adapter Richard Levine -- from the well-regarded novel, Blue Angel, by Francine Prose -- SUBMISSION tackles the idea of sexual harassment from a very different viewpoint. Though TrustMovies has not read this particular novel by Ms Prose, he has always found her writing strong, intelligent, thoughtful and often surprising in its choice of not just her subject but her attitude about that subject.

Here, the sexual harassment comes from both sides and in ways that are not so apparent early on. Motives are unclear, and sex itself seems maybe not nearly as important as things like fame, ego and that always problematic sense of self-worth. As director and adapter, Mr. Levine, shown at left, negotiates all this with remarkable ease and facility so that we are taken in, just as is the movie's protagonist, played with a simply wonderful combination of naivete and smarts by the always-good but here in that rare leading role that allows us to understand just how spectacular this actor can be: Stanley Tucci, below.

Mr. Tucci allows us to identify with and understand his character so thoroughly that, somewhere near the film's conclusion, my spouse murmured aloud, "Oh, this poor guy!" You'll feel the same way, and yet you will also understand exactly how he has managed to put himself in this unenviable position.

You may also feel a very odd combination of anger and admiration for his antagonist, portrayed with exactly the right mix of intelligence, neediness, ambition and a just-slightly-marred allure by Addison Timlin, above. The performances by these two actors could hardly be bettered, and the alternately sweet and naughty little dance they do together grows more complicated and unsettling as the movie progresses.

And, yes, sex is indeed involved, but the harassment portion of the equation is a lot more pliable and provocative than certain viewers might wish. The small liberal arts college that is the setting of the film is brought to satirical and mostly realistic life, while supporting roles  -- from our hero's wife, played by Kyra Sedgwick, below, and one of his faculty friends (Janeane Garafalo, shown at bottom, right) -- are very nicely limned, as well. While the novel was published back in 2000, the filmmaker has updated the content to include (and make some fun of) more current and problematic educational "tools" such as safe spaces and trigger warnings.

What happens to Tucci's character is awful but somehow expected, and the movie (as I imagine was the original novel) is not content to merely leave it there so that we and the characters can stew in our/their own juices. The ending -- which is abrupt yet just about perfect (the last line of dialog is heavenly) -- should put you in mind of something with which I suspect Ms Prose, Mr. Levine, the actors here and most of us writers, too, would all agree: In the end, it's the work that counts.

From Paladin and running 106 minutes, Submission opens theatrically this Friday, March 2, in New York City at the new Landmark 57 West. On Friday, March 9, look for it around the rest of the country in some 45 cities major and minor -- from Los Angeles (at various Laemmle theaters) to elsewhere, at locations including both the Regal and Landmark chains.  

No comments: