Time hasn’t been especially kind to the younger stars of American Beauty. Thora Birch, by many accounts, has seen her career derailed by her father/manager’s unsavory behavior. Mena Suvari failed to make the same impression on America that she did on Kevin Spacey’s horndog malcontent. And then there’s Wes Bentley, who played the vaguely creepy neighbor kid with the omnipresent video camera. His performance seemed impressive enough at the time, but it’s become evident in the years since that it was mostly a matter of typecasting. Bentley can’t not look vaguely creepy, even when he’s supposed to embody a perfectly ordinary dude. He’s got crazy eyes. And his unceasing intensity completely sinks The Time Being, a terminally flimsy indie about selfish artists that was more than pretentious enough in conception.
First seen staring at a blank canvas as if he wants to murder it, Bentley turns out to be a struggling painter whose latest efforts just aren’t selling, even though his devotion to his work is causing friction with his wife (Ahna O’Reilly). He does have one buyer, however: a mysterious elderly man (Frank Langella) living alone, save for a housekeeper, in a palatial estate. Langella isn’t actually interested in Bentley’s paintings, it soon emerges—rather than commission something new, he offers Bentley $1,000 to videotape the sunset from a specific location on a specific day and time. Subsequent, equally detailed videotaping gigs make it pretty clear that Langella may be interested in something more than pretty pictures, especially when one particular woman (Sarah Paulson) and/or her daughter (Mila Brener) keep happening by the shoots.
Snail paced, insufferably portentous, and virtually devoid of notable incident, The Time Being stretches the mystery of Langella’s intentions as thin as it possibly can, which makes it all the more irritating when the answer (revealed near the film’s midpoint to those who haven’t long since guessed) turns out to be so utterly banal. Meanwhile, Bentley’s weird emotional inaccessibility precludes any sort of interesting relationship between the two men, leaving the gifted Langella with little to do but project a weary cantankerousness. The movie does have an unusually rich visual palette, given its budget—credit either first-time director Nenad Cicin-Sain, who has a background in commercials and music videos, or hot new cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (The Master)—but after all the ponderous heavy breathing, it has nothing more profound to say than “artists should not neglect their families in pursuit of excellence.” Which might not ring so false if Bentley didn’t constantly look on the brink of devouring his family alive.