Friday, February 8, 2013

Stupid Kids Doing Stupid Shit, Why Mouth To Mouth Is An Easy-To-Overlook Ellen Page Film.

The Good: Generally decent acting
The Bad: Handheld camerawork is irksome, Entirely unlikable characters, Oppressive mood, Boring
The Basics: Ellen Page plays a young woman who joins a cult in Mouth To Mouth, one of her few films that is more difficult to watch because it sucks than because of the subject matter.

If Mouth To Mouth had been released after The Master (reviewed here!), I probably would have called it derivative of that new film about what is essentially a cult. Instead, given that it precedes P.T. Anderson’s nightmarish new film, Mouth To Mouth is easily likened to Havoc (reviewed here!). Like Havoc, I only sat down to watch the film because one of my favorite performers was in it. With Havoc, it was Anne Hathaway; Mouth To Mouth was one of the last films starring Ellen Page I had yet to see.

It was not worth hunting down. Ellen Page has a penchant for playing characters in difficult situations or settings. Usually, it is easy to empathize with the characters she plays, but with Sherry, I found the character (not the performance) lacking. Sherry is arguably the least likable character Ellen Page has ever played and the setting us utterly unpleasant to watch.

Sherry is a disaffected girl who is skipping out of school one day when she runs into Tiger, who gives her a pamphlet about Spark. She attends one of their meetings and learns that Spark is trying to make life for homeless people better, including teaching them how to do first aid and challenging the established order of things. Initially irked by how her possessions are divided up among the others in the group and how the members of S.P.A.R.K. (Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge) scrounge for food and supplies by dumpster diving, Sherry soon acclimates to the group. More driven than some of the other girls in the group, she travels across Europe with SPARK hoping to make a difference.

When one of the youngest members of the group dies while dumpster diving, the members of SPARK are shocked and Sherry is shaken enough to call her mother. At the wild concert SPARK attends, Sherry meets up with her mother and, despite a conflict between them, they both end up at the vineyard compound of SPARK together. There, Sherry is disciplined by Harry and she and her mother, Rose, are seduced by the seductive cult leader.

Harry’s group, it does not take long to realize, is a very classic cult. While the group does some good things – like getting its members off drugs and trying to educate homeless people – Harry enforces his will using humiliation, sleep deprivation, and other classic methods of control. At the vineyard, the SPARK members work tirelessly and Sherry is punished almost the moment after Harry sexually uses her and Rose leaves for a short time. While Sherry is initially drawn to the cause, Nancy is clearly just a dumb kid who is bored.

Unfortunately, Sherry is in a similar situation. Rose is never shown to be a particularly terrible mother (stupid, sure, especially for jumping right into the same cult as her daughter), but not characterized as a bad. So, Sherry’s pre-cult life doesn’t seem so bad and it is not clear why she would be so easily swayed into the cult’s lifestyle.

Mouth To Mouth opens boring and drags on into the thoroughly droll and unpleasant. Max Ax, a scrawny drugged-out man who latches onto the youngest member of the group, is even more lost than Sherry. But he is also characterized as one of the most instantly resistant characters to the concept of the cult. Yet, he lets himself be humiliated, controlled, and vomited upon without raising a fuss.

Mouth To Mouth is also notable in that it includes the important element of an accomplice for how cults survive. The nurse witnesses things like Nancy and Sherry being urinated on when they are trapped in the well, by Harry, but does not speak up. Her complicity is horrifying, but like so many elements of Mouth To Mouth, entirely familiar to those who are familiar with how cults operate.

Despite the constant oppressive or boring mood and the characters who lack a strong sensibility to be at all compelling, Mouth To Mouth has decent acting. Ellen Page plays a character who I was not at all attracted to or interested in, which takes quite a bit (she is such an intriguing performer, for her to play a thoroughly unlikable character is an actual performance!). Eric Thal, whose only other work I am familiar with is Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (reviewed here!) is exceptional in the contrasting performance he delivers in Mouth To Mouth. Far from the intellectual, efficient, and likable agent in that other film, in Mouth To Mouth Thal plays the ripped, shirtless brute of a cult leader with enough charisma to sell the role and enough power to make the endurance of the cult seem viable and real.

Despite the performances, Mouth To Mouth is further plagued by shaky hand-held camerawork that is distracting and annoying. Much of the film is shot underlit and there is a grainy quality to the film that feels more sloppy than artistic. These are, however, some of the most minor problems for a film where the characters are so unlikable and the plot structure too familiar.

For other films with Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, please visit my reviews of:
Max Payne
The Incredible Hulk
The Tracey Fragments
The Sentinel


For other movies, check out my Movie Review Index Page where films are organized from best to worst!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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