Friday, August 11, 2006

In Name Only

Day Five of Being Boring's Gregg Araki Blogathon.

Gregg Araki's first "adult" post-teen-apocalypse film, Splendor, reads like one of those fashionable summer novels with the zippy neon covers. The latter is a piece of work which was never really good to begin with, but, either because of impeccable marketing campaigns or insane word of mouth, scales the New York Times best seller list despite its mediocrity. Everyone has read it, all the while acknowledging its frivolousness. Splendor takes this approach to heart, hoping that the summer crowds might have found it a flimsy gem, allowing it ascension from its indie trappings. It fails for a great many reasons. Confused as to how to render adults in cinema, Splendor's attempt at adultness (from a filmmaker hot off the heels of 3 teen romps) hopes to create maturity by merely numbing Araki's typically youthful vitality. Gone is Araki's vivacious soundtrack, having been replaced by an easier, cooler lite-remixed roster of notables. The colors come more from Noxzema than methamphetamines. From the film's very first moments, it is clear that something is missing. Nothing quite makes the sense that Araki's prior absurdist films do.

Part of the problem is Robertson, who lacks the personality to hold a viewer's attention, much less elicit emotional response. Even more detrimental to her casual performance is her insanely laborious make-up designs which, more often than not do the acting for her. Kelly MacDonald, of Trainspotting fame provides the only respite, yet it's a sad one, reminding us of better times and characters in Araki narratives. Araki finds himself at a crippling crossroads. Having (in his personal life) recently started a relationship with Robertson, and therefore countering the potent sexuality of his prior cinematic exercises, he teeters between showing her as sex object and aspiration. 'Does he want to fuck her or be her?' the viewer must constantly ask oneself.

In a way, the film is a rather interesting artifact: Gregg Araki comes of age. This slightly interesting idea, however, only holds our attention for short spurts. For the rest of the film, Araki flouders about, aimlessly doing what he thinks that it is straight adults do. Not that I would know any better, but I don't think it's this bland. And with a taboo to boot.


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