Neil LaBute’s 1997 debut film In The Company of Men set the tone for his entire career. It was dark, uncomfortable and ruthlessly depicted the battle of the sexes. He’s crafted multiple films and plays since then, and most of them seem to take delight in making the audience uncomfortable. LaBute has been sidetracked a few times in recent years with studio remakes and earnest thrillers, but he returns to the big screen this month with a film that builds upon his earliest work and is poised to once again polarize audiences.
While Some Velvet Morning was not written for the stage, it may as well have been. The entire story is told with just two characters who spend almost the full running time of the film arguing in the same room. Fred (Stanley Tucci) comes knocking on the door of his former mistress early one New York morning. He hasn’t called Velvet (Alice Eve) or given her any indication that he’d be coming. They broke off their relationship four years prior, and she makes it clear that while she is glad to see him, his presence is an inconvenience. He tells her that he’s grabbed everything he had and threw it into a few suitcases while his wife was out at the store, leaving her for good to start over again.
We spend the next 80 minutes or so watching Fred and Velvet run the full spectrum of emotions, from calm conversation to full-on, throwing things across the room, fighting. The casting choices, at least, are very smart because Tucci and Eve hold their own against each other and are very believable as a dueling couple. It is slowly revealed that Velvet is an escort who also still “has lunch and other things” with Fred’s son. In fact she’s getting ready to leave to meet him in the city and is going to be late, but that only escalates the arguing from the first floor to the upstairs bedroom and back down again.
If Lars Von Trier was still leading the Dogme 95 movement, this movie could probably have qualified. There is an abundance of natural light (which digital video doesn’t always handle so well), and the overall production design is sharp, but limited. Aside from a brief scene where they move out to the back patio to fight, with city traffic and construction noise filtering through, everything takes place within the cold, sterile confines of Velvet’s townhouse. And by everything, I mean nothing because it’s just a lot of yelling and her saying “I have to go” over and over again to try and get him out of her house.
LaBute’s dialogue often veers into more than casual misogyny and, at one point, the movie goes off the rails so far that I was disgusted. Some have called this surprise twist ending brilliant, but to me it just felt cheap. Further explanations would devolve into full-on spoiler territory but, fine acting aside, this is a story that should have remained untold.
Director: Neil LaBute
Writer: Neil LaBute
Starring: Stanley Tucci, Alice Eve
Release Date: Dec. 20, 2013