Jim at The Velvet Blog
sent me an email the other day, kind of like one of those "For Your Consideration" ads you see in the trade papers, and on billboards along the Sunset Strip, except it contained a recommendation for our sequel to Better Living Through Bad Movies
. Like his previous suggestions, it was a movie I'd never heard of -- a state of blissful ignorance I can now only look back upon with a wistful sigh of nostalgic yearning -- which didn't surprise me, as Jim seems to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of -- and eclectic taste in -- bad cinema. This time he nudged me toward a bucket of art-house offal by Thomas Vinterberg, a Danish filmmaker who co-founded the Dogme 95
movement with Lars von Trier. Jim proffered a few brief plot details, but basically summed up the film by asking:
Good lord--what were they thinking??
I have to admit, I dozed off near the end, so I'll probably rewatch the last 15 minutes to see what, if anything, I missed.
If you have any desire to see this train wreck, it's on Netflix streaming--but it expires on Sunday, I think.
I probably should have taken this as a warning rather than a challenge, but since Sheri and I tend to write about either big- or low-budget Hollywood fare, our repertoire is a little light on moderately-priced, EU-funded art films starring B-list American actors. So what the hell, I figured. And if it got really bad, and I found I could neither match Jim's fortitude, nor fall into a defensive coma, I could always just turn the thing off.
Unfortunately, once I'd sat through the first six hours of this one hour and forty-one minute movie, I realized it was too late to turn back. Much, much too late. So Join Us, won't you?
It’s All About Love
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Written by Mogens Rukov and Thomas Vinterberg
“It was the hot summer of 2021.” That’s what Joaquin Phoenix tells us, in a “Polish” accent that makes you want to beat him with a truncheon made of kielbasa. Joaquin is stopping in New York to see his wife, Clare Danes, the World’s Greatest Figure Skater, and sign their divorce papers. Instead, he’s met by two of Clare’s sinister private security agents: Mark Strong, who’s struggling to maintain an American accent and suppress the urge to kill everyone in the terminal, and an elderly bodyguard who’s struggling with jowls and the urge to switch from Metamucil to Ducolax.
Joaquin agrees to stay in town and attend Clare’s “premiere,” but naturally he’ll need a tuxedo, because in the future, Holiday on Ice
is a black tie affair, while people wear Crocs and those beer-caddy hardhats to the opera.
There’s a dead man blocking the bottom of the escalator, and Strong explains that everybody’s heart has gone on the fritz (“The heart,” Joaquin says, touching his chest, “That’s in here.”), and people are just dropping dead, often while leaning over to collect their suitcases, leaving their corpses to ride slowly around on the baggage carrousel, and turning JFK into the most depressing theme park in the Tri-State Area.
Clare’s hotel is an armed camp. Joaquin is frisked before being hustled to her floor, which is sealed off like the White House Situation Room, the halls crowded with murmuring Men in Black, because the whole city is abuzz about “the skating show.”
So to recap: Everything in 2021 will look exactly the same as 2003: fashions, cars, technology. The only noticeable difference is that in the future, more people than usual will keel over while buying Eagle Snacks, and ice skaters will have their own militias.
Joaquin and Clare mutter and giggle about why she didn’t meet him at the airport (because she never
goes to the airport – apparently she just skates everywhere, like Hans Brinker). Clare also has a vague Slavic accent, and if anything, it’s even worse than Joaquin’s. But it fades in and out like a weak UHF channel, so I’m hopeful that one good hail storm will knock it out entirely.
Clare’s massive motorcade heads to the skating show. Joaquin calls his brother, Sean Penn, who is mincing up and down the aisle of an Airbus and flavoring his own Polish accent with a sparkling tablespoon of Fey.
It seems Sean’s doctor prescribed a drug to ease his fear of flying, but he took an overdose, and now he can’t stop
flying – he’s always in the air. This is pretty funny, but I think it’s actually supposed to be poetic. Meanwhile, people in Uganda are flying without planes, spontaneously floating into the sky like Ed Wynn in Mary Poppins
, except they clearly don’t love to laugh; in fact, they seem kind of depressed about it.
At the rink, Joaquin and his tuxedo watch as Clare and her hair-weave do a few listless double axels. The crowd goes out of their frigging minds with joy, suggesting that in the future, figure skating is the only form of entertainment allowed, TV and movies having been outlawed. Which at the moment doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
Clare walks out into the hall and confronts Another Clare, dressed forbiddingly in a babushka and Zebra-print raincoat. Her two-toned, black and white color scheme obviously represents Manichaeism, or Cartesian Dualism. But then Another Clare screams at Clare, “You go away! Go away
!” which makes me think she might actually symbolize rottentomatoes.com.
Clare begs Joaquin to skip his flight and get in her motorcade of white limousines, so he will know what it would feel like if the President of the United States were a 17-year old prom queen. Then they drive to a bar to use a payphone, because it's the future.
Joaquin discovers that there’s a conspiracy to send Clare to Moscow for a vacation, so the two of them hold hands and run toward the camera, just like the opening credits of The Mod Squad
, if it had been a show about two Polish people who were depressed because they didn’t have cell phones.
Meanwhile, Sean Penn is still airborne and Polish, but he’s less fey now, so thankfully the overdose of Rip Taylor he took is starting to wear off.
Joaquin and Clare check into a flophouse in Brooklyn and pantomime intercourse under a musty blanket. Suddenly, it starts to snow. They walk out into a flurry, and Joaquin, who totally nailed the location of the heart earlier in the film, says to someone standing off screen, “Hello, sir! Have you seen that it’s snowing?” Dude is in the zone
Joaquin passes out from all the implied sex, while some shadowy men kidnap Clare. He goes back to her hotel, where Another Clare weeps and screams “Get out of here!” and threatens him with a knife. Then a Third Other Clare sprints past the camera, presumably because she spotted a better script across the room. It turns out that a supervillain is buying skaters at a discount in Eastern Europe, then scientifically transforming them into Clare – so for convenience sake we’ll call them Clonya Hardings.
Joaquin walks outside and faints. Meanwhile, it’s also snowing in Venice. He wakes up in Clare’s hotel, just in time for a weird debutante ball, where all three Clonya Hardings are formally presented to Joaquin. Then things get a trifle uncomfortable when they dopplegang-bang Real Clare, rubbing her all over and begging to smell her.
Clare swoons (a good 41% of this film consists of people greeting each other in hotel rooms, smoking on airplanes, and fainting). Later she wakes up in her hotel room and drinks a glass of water just as a TV anchorman warns the audience that all fresh water in the world is about to freeze for two minutes. This saves Clare and Joaquin a trip to the ice machine, and they celebrate by simulating sex under a quilt.
Afterwards, Clare squints at something off screen and shouts, “Look!” Cut to Paris, where it’s snowing. Cut back to Clare, who can see unseasonable weather three thousand miles away, suggesting that in the future, Lasik surgery works really well.
Joaquin and Clare decide to escape to Poland. Before fleeing for their lives, however, they stop by the rink so Clare can figure skate with her psychotic clones. They are all dressed in identical pink outfits, and one of them – I think it’s the shouty, knife-wielding Other Clare – repeatedly tells Joaquin how “beautiful” he is, before whispering, “I meese
men.” So before she was transformed into Clare, Other Claire apparently had an affair with former Attorney General Edwin Meese, which frankly would have put me off penis in any form, but then I have a weak constitution.
Somebody with a yen for German Expressionism illuminates the rink, and Clare’s four body doubles slowly figure skate through the light and shadows, in what can best be described as The Ice Capades of Dr. Caligari
. Tickets available from all Ticketron outlets.
There’s a gunshot, and one of the Clares is hit! They all continue to skate, however, because Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t interrupt Jackie Kennedy’s ice dancing, did he? Bang! She takes another slug while doing a Hamill Camel, spraying the rink with blood like a Rainbird. Somebody should probably do something, but Joaquin is busy smoking, and the Clares are concentrating on their salchows. In fact, the only person who even seems to notice the gory assassination is the Zamboni driver, and he just looks annoyed.
Two more shots ring out, and the Remaining Clares drop dead. Okay, enough is enough; Joaquin walks onto the ice in a snit, stands over Clare’s body and snaps at the gunman, “Stop
that!” But it’s okay, because it’s only the Other Clares who are bloody corpses – Real Clare took a dive. Aren’t you relieved? You won’t be when you look at the time code and realize there’s still 25 minutes to go.
Joaquin and Clare wander across a vast, snowy landscape, just like Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago
, except you keep hoping they’ll run into that bear from Grizzly Man
. Meanwhile, people continue to fly in Uganda, which means someone
is still capable of thinking happy thoughts. Personally, I can’t manage it.
Clare develops painfully chapped lips, so she decides to die, perishing slowly and languorously in Joaquin’s arms while he stares into the camera, which is what he’s been doing for a good 50% of the film. Seriously, I am way more intimately acquainted with his face than I ever wanted to be; I feel like I went to high school with that scar on his upper lip.
Anyway, he sits there, until he and Clare are just two blue faces sticking out of a snowdrift. Then Sean calls again to say, “John, you’re probably out there somewhere in the snow.” Well, yeah. “Both of you. It’s like the old days.” Remember when you kids would wander into the Arctic Circle and die of hypothermia? Mom would get so mad
Cut to Africa, where dozens of floating Ugandans are tethered to the ground by ropes and wriggling like Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons with a panic disorder.
We fade to black, and these words appear: “It’s all about love.” Just in case you were wondering what the deal was.
According to the time code there are still five minutes to go, but since it's just the end credits, I’m going to turn it off (words I’ve been weeping and screaming for the past hour, like George C. Scott in Hardcore
), because I’m reasonably sure there isn’t a hilarious blooper reel at the end.