Ophelia

It is perhaps the nature of humanity that people adept in one field will feel dissatisfied with their lot in life and attempt to branch out into exciting new careers. Of course, were a dentist to decide one day that he wants to become both a dentist and a plumber, he'd likely be written off as flighty, harmless, and a bit eccentric. But conventional logic never seems to apply to successful musicians, for whom acting, writing, and directing films somehow seems to be a logical career step. Fresh on the heels of such worthy cinematic scribes as Master P, Jay-Z, and RZA, Natalie Merchant has written and starred in the short film Ophelia, a companion piece to her recent album of the same name. Never one to step carefully, Merchant plays not one, not two, but a slew of different characters, from a prim suffragette to a prim nightclub performer to a prim acrobat. Operating as a sort of amateur variation on Tracey Takes On..., Merchant's different characters directly address the audience with stories and anecdotes about their lives. In her music, Merchant often comes across as a stiff, humorless social worker of a performer, and sadly, that's how she comes off in Ophelia. As an actress, she's narcissistically awful: From her stilted way of speaking to her unsteady gesturing, she's bad in a way that's almost painfully intimate. Luckily, though, the "film" segment of Ophelia runs a mere 20 minutes, with the rest of the tape devoted to four unremarkable music videos from her newest album and its predecessor, Tiger Lily. Merchant's diehard fans will likely love Ophelia, and to its credit, it's more interesting than most long-form music compilations. But for those not already enamored of Merchant's wispy librarian-pop, Ophelia provides little more than queasy train-wreck fascination.

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