Saturday, December 3, 2011

So This Is NC-17? Eh. Henry And June

The Good: Easy to watch, Some characters, Some acting
The Bad: Characters get lost in pursuit of style, Repetitive after a fashion
The Basics: An engaging character-driven opening continues for half the film before Henry And June gives up and becomes a series of simulated sex scenes.

Henry And June was easily one of the most mistitled films of the 1990s, but I suppose the only thing people will go to see less than an NC-17 film is one entitled, "Henry and Anais." The truth is, the film is more about Anais Nin than Henry or June. C'est la vie.

The plot of Henry And June is rather simple and straightforward. Anais Nin is living in France with her dull husband Hugo who, at her request, brings back people who are quite alive. This takes the form of the American author Henry Miller, a robust man who is quite in love with his mostly absent wife June. Hugo spends much time out of the house and so Henry and Anais begin an affair which complicates both of their lives. What follows is a series of sexual escapades involving Anais and Henry, Anais and June and Hugo and Anais as well as Anais and a few others. After the first half of the film, the movie becomes a repetitive block of sexual experimentation wherein Anais explores rape (by her husband), lesbianism, adultery, incest (with a cousin), and more, I suppose.

Okay, here's the thing; I'm not a prude, but I suppose the MPAA is. There are certain rules for films that are generally known. For instance, if the male organ is aroused, the general rule is it won't appear in the film and get an R rating. The MPAA rates films and it must be run by a bunch of misogynistic men, because they are far more lenient on what may be shown of a woman's body. Given that double standard, I'm baffled as to why this film is NC-17. There are breasts. Yup. They're all over in the film. That, however, tends to be the extent of the nudity. Most of the rest is simulated sex and vague images and fantasies mid-coitus. Go figure.

So, what's to recommend this film? Surprisingly, some of the characters. Anais is all right, but the film's best moments come from Henry Miller. Fred Ward, who plays Miller, is exceptional, infusing energy and life into the character. In some ways, the film is Henry's journey to understand women with the help of Anais. The problem is that that plot begins strong and is overcome by Anais' experimentation. In the few moments he's on screen, Kevin Spacey delivers as Richard Osborn.

What sinks the film is that the characters become more nebulous as the film goes on. Anais becomes far less defined than she was in the beginning, Hugo disappears altogether. And Henry, even though he writes Tropic Of Cancer, becomes much less vital. June's brief appearances show no growth and her initial ease in the film is lost. But more important, most of the characters take a second spot to Anais and - while quite simply beautiful, she's uninteresting - her repetitive exploits with her sexuality. That is to say, the film begins as a character-driven story and then degenerates into a "and now she tried it with" tale and that keeps repeating.

In the end, the reason I'm recommending the film is that it's not unenjoyable, it simply is a piece that is remarkably inconsistent. And there is just enough of the characters doing character-related things at the end to make it worth your time and attention. There are, however, other pieces I'd recommend more.

For other movies with a strong erotic component, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Love And Other Drugs
American Beauty


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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