Two Cranky Guys Go to the New York Film Festival—What a ‘Shame’!
Bruce Fretts: A sex-addicted New Yorker hooks up with strangers but is unable to achieve genuine intimacy. No, it’s not The Bret Watson Story—it’s Shame, the sure-to-be-controversial new Michael Fassbender flick that we caught at the New York Film Festival. The question is, Bret: Was it good for you?
Bret Watson: It’s a shame I sat through Shame. I’ll confess right up front that I seldom like movies about addictions or mental illnesses. They follow predictable downward spirals into dismay and squalor, and the character really can’t be held accountable for his decisions because, hey, he’s a victim of an addiction or a mental imbalance. It’s the same reason I find tales about your dating life so wearisome.
Bruce: Speaking of which, I was planning to take my new girlfriend to see this movie, but when she heard the premise, she passed. So instead I’m taking her to the festival to see My Week with Marilyn, the Marilyn Monroe biopic with Michelle Williams. I suppose you would’ve preferred I take you to see that one?
Bret: What, instead of taking me to sit in a theater with a few hundred strangers to watch artsy soft-core pornography? I would have even preferred that you take me to see an Anne Hathaway movie.
Bruce: Well, I didn’t hate Shame. I didn’t love it—it’s not a movie that one can easily love. But I found things to admire about it. And I’m don’t mean Fassbender’s full-frontal nude scenes. I’m guessing those were your least favorite parts.
Bret: Paradoxically, those scenes were the shortest parts.
Bruce: In any case, Fassbender’s generously endowed with talent. He mentioned in the Q&A after the film that he went into this right after playing Magneto in X-Men: First Class and Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, which also premiered at the NYFF. That’s some range.
Bret: He’s excellent in X-Men and I’ll even grant he’s excellent in Shame.
Bruce: Fassbender’s last scene was shattering. I bet he’ll get an Oscar nod for this, although the film may be too explicit to get a Best Picture nomination.
Bret: The scene of him crying on a pier?
Bruce: SPOILER ALERT!
Bret: I spoiled nothing. It’s not a climax if the scene can come anywhere in the movie. I didn’t find it devastating. Instead I was thinking, “I’m tired of movies about anti-heroes.” What’s wrong with us that nowadays audiences constantly want to wallow in the lives of reprobates, from mob bosses to real-life housewives? And if the main character is admirable, he has to be wearing colorful tights and have super powers.
Bruce: Bad guys are more interesting characters. You should know that—you used your bad-boy swagger to attract women back in your dating days.
Bret: At least give me a bad guy with some redeeming features. And give me a movie where the main character changes somehow by the end of the movie, as opposed to just getting more of the same. Give me more than glorified voyeurism. Incidentally, did you notice that Fassbinder’s nude scenes are when he’s alone, whereas when he has sexual encounters with women he’s usually clothed? I think that must have been Symbolic. Or to put it another way, that dude is screwed up.
Bruce: But not as screwed up as his sister, Sissy, well-played by Carey Mulligan. She also does a full-frontal nude scene, Gold bless her. Sissy is an apparently bipolar chanteuse who seems a little too close to her brother. She’s so nutso, I’m surprised I never dated her.
Bret: So here’s the plot: Fassbinder’s character watches porn, spends too much time alone in the restroom at work, has fleeting encounters with unknown women, and periodically he goes back to his apartment to yell at his sister. And things just get worse until the inevitable, predictable Desperate Act takes place. We don’t even learn what it is in their past that led to their desperate conditions. Now I know why Alice Tully Hall has such long rows with no aisle down the middle: It prevents people from sneaking out early.
Bruce: Before the film, you mentioned you’d seen one of the worst movies you’d ever seen at the NYFF, some black and white Russian film that “moved at the pace of life, only nothing happened.” That’s also a good description of this film, but I found the visuals—by artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen, who previously collaborated with Fassbender on the Bobby Sands biopic Hunger—and music so haunting that it almost didn’t matter.
Bret: The use of Glenn Gould playing Bach pieces was the only thing I liked about the movie—except for the fact that the movie has probably ruined the pieces for me, the way I can’t hear “Singing in the Rain” without remembering A Clockwork Orange. Thanks, Shame.
Bruce: I found the use of pop music like “Rapture” by Blondie and “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club to be inspired as well. And Mulligan sings a version of “New York, New York” that’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Bret: Yes, it was compelling to restate that Sinatra standard as a pathetic declaration, a wish by a vagabond who perhaps might not ever get to New York. I’ve never been comfortable with the line “It’s up to you, New York, New York,” because New York doesn’t give a crap about you. Don’t count on it for anything.
Bruce: The New Yorkers in the audience, present company excluded, seemed to enjoy the film. At least based on the endlessly fawning questions they asked afterwards. You cut out before the Q&A was over to make a train—did you catch it?
Bret: You caught up with me in the subway. You’re lucky I didn’t throw you under the train after luring me to that lurid movie.
Bruce: I wonder if the version we saw will be the one released to U.S. theaters. The filmmakers have said they won’t cut it to get an R rating, but it’s hard to believe Fox Searchlight will be okay with that.
Bret: Can you believe we live in a universe where 20th Century Fox can promulgate both Fox News and an NC-17 movie that wallows in the life of a sex addict? Here’s the only thing the two products have in common: They both might make money for Rupert Murdoch.
Bruce: But this is coming from Fox Hollywood, as Sarah Palin dubbed it to distinguish it from Fox News, which pays her as a contributor. I wonder what Palin will say if she sees this flick. Then again, she’s not above screwing strangers—she did it to the entire population of Alaska.
Bret: Yes, but she always pulls out before the finish.
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