My Year of Flops Case File #30 Loverboy
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"I think there's more ways to get a movie made today than ever in the history of the entertainment industry." Edward Norton asserted to our very own Scott Tobias in an A.V Club interview a while back. Given the homogenous nature of the fare that packs multiplexes these days that seems like a strange, even counter-intuitive assertion. But Norton wasn't talking about films that fill multiplexes. He was talking about the kind of movies that play film festivals en route to sleepy weeklong art house runs and eventual DVD posterity.
The problem, consequently isn't that quirky seventies-style cult movies don't get made. Weird, idiosyncratic labor of loves get made all the time, movies like Down In The Valley, Mysterious Skin, Old Joy and today's My Year of Flops entry, Loverboy. Just look at the peculiar oeuvre of gazillionaire Mark Cuban, a fellow who seems to view financing movies less as a savvy business move then as an extended act of cultural philanthropy. From a financial standpoint financing movies like Diggers, Bubble, and One Last Thing is only a short step up from investing your life savings in magic beans or X-ray spex.
These movies may not pack theaters for months at a time or inspire fevered water-cooler debate come Monday morning. There may not be a passionate culture-wide debate on, say, Mysterious Skin's merits but it did play theatrically in major cities, got reviewed in major newspapers and enjoyed a DVD release that makes it accessible to anyone with a computer, DVD player and a Netflix or Blockbuster online subscription.
Besides, do we really expect these movies to compete on equal footing at the box-office alongside the latest Michael Bay CGI extravaganza? Does a film's value and legitimacy really have all that much to do with how many people saw it? Just how many rhetorical questions can I ask in a row? Five? Ten? A bazillion?
Granted, when Kevin Bacon lined up Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Campbell Scott, Oliver Platt, Kyra Sedgwick, John Legend and Marisa Tomei to appear in his adaptation of Victoria Redel's novel Loverboy he probably envisioned something beyond an eighteen percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a box-office gross of just under thirty thousand dollars. But the important thing isn't necessarily that Loverboy failed to live up to expectations, score Sedgwick an Academy Award nomination for an incredibly flashy, attention-grabbing Oscar-bait role or out-gross the average schoolteacher's annual salary. No, the important thing, in my estimation at least, is that Bacon got a movie as weird, crazy and just plain wrong as Loverboy made and that pretty much anyone can see it. Getting a movie this doggedly bizarre and singular made is a formidable achievement in itself.
For Loverboy is a movie about the sensual rapture of motherhood, a topic that doesn't exactly rival the existential angst of super-powered spider-persons in delivering boffo box-office. In a scarily committed performance that makes traditional notions of "good" and "bad" seem somehow irrelevant Sedgwick plays a sick twist obsessed with giving birth to the perfect child by having sex with a broad cross-section of eligible men.
In these sexually charged early scenes, where Sedgwick flings herself haphazardly at random men to satisfy her insatiable hunger for baby batter, director Bacon comes off like a sketchy mustachioed swinger pulling strangers aside and admonishing them to check out his wife's amazing ass. Of course it doesn't help that Bacon plays both a sketchy seventies swinger and real-life wife Sedgwick's onscreen father. Grossed out yet?
Loverboy eventually gets around to elucidating the source of Sedgwick's insanity. At a middle school talent show she sang a surprisingly convincing an a ca pella version of David Bowie's "Life On Mars" that so mortified parents Bacon and Tomei that they committed suicide in protest. Of course it's not quite that simple. No, boozy, glamorous neighbor Sandra Bullock, who exists in a perpetual burst of golden sunlight, apparently hastened Sedgwick's descent into madness by touching her naughty places or at least teaching her that a grotesquely inappropriate relationship between a child and a mentally ill adult is the highest, purest form of human interaction.
Sedgwick consequently calls her beloved six-year-old queasy things like "Loverboy", tries to teach him how to drive and generally behaves as if the two of them belong in a rarified spirit realm alongside fairies, cherubs and the 1987 All-Madden team, not in the ugly, corrupt world of mere mortals. Sedgwick seems to view several week's after an offspring's death as the appropriate time to cut the proverbial apron strings.
Sedgwick is horrified to learn that her son nurses dark, forbidden desires to do things like go to school, associate with other children and not drive a car until he's at least in his early teens, all rebellious acts that threaten Sedgwick's desire to spend every waking hour cooing sweet nothings to her darling baby boy.
Loverboy then echoes the great Reagan-era thriller The Stepfather as Sedgwick travels from town to town in her mad search to create her warped version of the perfect family. A screaming blurb on the DVD box compares the film to Fatal Attraction but that's both reductive and inaccurate. There are lots of slickly forgettable Fatal Attraction clones out there but I've never seen a movie quite like Loverboy.
Loverboy is pitched awkwardly between pitch-black Oedipal comedy and turgid psychodrama, empathy and bemusement. But I can't say I was ever bored, even when Bacon's overheated direction shoots for languid, hothouse atmospherics and ends up feeling like a star-studded episode of Red Shoe Diaries. There are times when the film seems to exist solely in Sedgwick's fevered imagination. Bullock's appearance in particular seems bathed in the fuzzy golden haze of highly subjective nostalgia and Sedgwick's characteristically florid voiceover posits her as the least reliable of narrators.
Loverboy is a prototypical fiasco, full of fire, ambition and peculiar conviction but misguided to an almost comic extent. So if this Summer's endless parade of mercenary sequels, remakes, TV and comic book adaptations has you down why not throw a mini-film festival on your DVD player with some of the oddball fare I've mentioned above? They aren't all, you know, "good" by any stretch of the imagination but then neither is much of the crap you see at Sundance any given year.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success?:Fiasco