Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Some Velvet Morning, Stanley Tucci And Alice Eve Play Two Expert Manipulators!

The Good: Well-written, Amazingly well-acted, Decent direction
The Bad: Characters are uninteresting, Cinematically unremarkable
The Basics: Neil LaBute presents a play on film that is all about characters who are complicated and conflicted with Some Velvet Morning.

As I find myself with less and less time these days, I think it makes a statement when I make a choice to go to the movies to actually review new films. I’m not, for example, wasting my very limited time on Godzilla and my budget for indie films has been slashed. So, when I took the time to watch Some Velvet Morning based solely on the presence of Stanley Tucci in the film, it meant that I was, if anything, biased in favor of the film. The truth is, I think Stanley Tucci is one of the most underrated actors of our time. In Neil LaBute’s latest drama, Some Velvet Morning, Stanley Tucci is wonderful, even if the character he is playing is terrible.

That, though, is the essence of great acting; when an actor can completely disappear into a role and give viewers something completely different from what we’ve seen from them before. And in Some Velvet Morning, Stanley Tucci is unsettling and plays the role of Fred with a rage that is boiling just beneath the surface for much of the film that is unlike anything I have ever seen from him before. His character of Fred lacks the easygoing, loose body language charm of, for example, his character from Easy A (reviewed here!). He asserts himself as an actor who can truly do anything in Some Velvet Morning, which makes sense because of his strong theater background. Some Velvet Morning is essentially a play on film, so it is hardly extraordinary moviemaking, though anyone who enjoys character-driven, artsy movies or theatrical plays is likely to enjoy the experience.

Velvet is laying on her couch on a random morning, listening to music, when the doorbell rings repeatedly. She gets up and is shocked to see Fred standing in her doorway with all his luggage. Velvet cautiously invited him in and he reveals that he has left his wife of twenty-four years, Miriam, once and for all. Velvet suggests Fred call his wife, but he engages her in conversation, asking her for a glass of water and getting her to talk about where she is in life. She is reserved and tells him she has friends to meet. Fred draws out that his son, Chris, is still seeing Velvet, despite being married to a woman named Mandy. Fred begins to converse with and manipulate Velvet.

Upset when Fred refers to her as Velvet, ?? (we never learn Velvet's real name) insists that she is not the woman Fred remembers and she storms upstairs. Fred follows her and pushes her for the origins of the nickname “Velvet,” which is much darker than he ever imagined. But she quickly recants and insists she needs to go out. The two continue to verbally spar and when Velvet calls to let Chris know that she will be late, it makes Fred believe he can finally quit feeling love for his former mistress. But their conversation and their manipulations of one another continue, with Fred oscillating between anger and affection, disappointment and hopefulness.

What keeps Some Velvet Morning watchable is how the characters are layered and the film is not at all a monolithic or sterile as its setting (the entire movie occurs in a single house, in about three rooms and a stairway) would suggest. Fred is clearly a manipulator and long before his overt anger comes out, there is an impressive undertone of rage that he embodies early on as he simply insists that Velvet sit beside him. But while Tucci’s Fred is almost instantly characterized as a reprehensibly human being who is clearly manipulating Velvet, Velvet pushes Fred’s buttons and manipulates Fred as well.

To that end, Some Velvet Morning takes a bit of trust to keep watching. For the first half of the film, Some Velvet Morning is largely Fred working his game and his erratic nature makes it seem like he is emotionally beating the hell out of Velvet, but in the latter half, Velvet comes into her own. Velvet knows a game when she sees it and in the second half of the movie, she has moments of taking delight in the way she can push Fred and manipulate him. When Velvet details her history of prostitution with Fred, there are moments she clearly stabs at him with the intent to hurt him.

What surprised me most about Some Velvet Morning was Alice Eve. Eve seems to be typecast more often than not; indeed, she plays Velvet initially with a reserved quality that is virtually identical to her character from Star Trek Into Darkness (reviewed here!). But as Some Velvet Morning progresses, she starts giving a more layered performance. Velvet is smarter than she initially appears and she is onto Fred’s game. So, as Velvet begins to poke back at Fred, Eve manages to portray a similar level of deviousness. The moment Velvet first puts her hand on Fred’s knee, the viewer knows that she is playing Fred just as he is playing her. Alice Eve makes the move look effortless and she sells the “not by accident” body language, even as she delivers lines that make her character seem ignorant of her own power. Eve sell’s the film’s end and (without spoilers) when the movie takes a turn for the horrifying in the final nine minutes, it is her emotive abilities that unsettle and shake the viewer. For someone who has spent the film working another character into a boiling rage, Velvet becomes sympathetic when that yields a terrible result and Eve lands the moments in a way that jars the viewer.

Stanley Tucci is masterful in Some Velvet Morning. The only comparisons I have are that he plays the role of Fred as a cross between the intonations of Kevin Spacey and the body language of Brad Pitt. The combination is irresistible and it becomes distinctly Tucci’s own performance. In simpler terms, while there are moments that seemed familiar (Tucci’s moments of whimsy as Fred reminded me of Spacey’s performance in House Of Cards’s first season when Frank Underwood is on television and has an unexpected meltdown), it took so long for me to place why there was some familiarity to the film.

Neil LaBute fully redeems himself for The Wicker Man (reviewed here!) with Some Velvet Morning, though the scale of this film is much, much smaller. LaBute is an exceptional writer, but as a director, Some Velvet Morning makes him appear somewhat more mediocre. Some Velvet Morning is essentially a play on film and LaBute fails at some key moments to capitalize on the film medium. Most notably, he has the camera way too far back during a kiss late in the film. The moment lacks intimacy, he fails to capture the characters’ reactions and the moment lacks depth because LaBute keeps the full “stage” in shot as opposed to getting tight in on the characters.

That said, it has been a long time since I’ve seen a film with only two characters that actually held my attention and interest. Some Velvet Morning has some oddities to it (not the least of which is that the Production Designer gets third billing before the title in the opening credits!), but it manages to keep what could be a claustrophobic or unsettling film moving along in an entirely watchable way.

For other films with Alice Eve, please check out my reviews of:
Men In Black 3
She's Out Of My League
Sex And The City 2


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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