Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

When talent fails, the results are a blazing crash of the first order. It’s why people watch NASCAR, and it’s surely the only reason to watch We Need to Talk About Kevin, a high-functioning mess of a movie from two skilled artists, director Lynne Ramsay and actress Tilda Swinton. This is no run-of-the-mill multiplex mediocrity, but a spectacular arthouse flameout. Set in a small city rocked by a high-school massacre, the film focuses on Eva (Swinton), the mother of the killer—a brooding, amoral teen envisioned as a Tiger Beat pinup crossed with Satan. An intriguing premise, perhaps, but why is it necessary to reduce the entire community to the level of caricature in order to elevate Eva to sainthood? To save one soul, Ramsay damns an entire city, depicting every secondary character as some sort of dumpy asshole. Snobbish and mean-spirited, the film populates itself with ignorant suburban thugs, creating a world so blandly ugly it suggests Norman Rockwell illustrating an old issue of Eightball. It could almost work as a grotesque if only Ramsay weren’t so direly humorless in her depiction of Eva’s martyrdom. Everything hits rock bottom early and hard when the mother of one of the victims walks up to Eva and without provocation punches her in the face. Apparently this is how people grieve out on the savage streets of Anytown, USA—or at least the weird, phantom nation that exists somewhere in the filmmakers’ imaginations, far beyond the borders of good sense.

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