Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, December 16th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes, Rated NC-17
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger)
Shame is rated NC-17, but it didn’t have to be. It is a movie about sexual addiction, that itself is addicted to sex and nakedness. Be forewarned that this is not a movie for people uncomfortable with the material. There is plenty of sex, frontal nudity (both male and female), and adult content galore. At the risk of sounding prudish, couldn’t Shame have explored this subject with a bit of awareness that an audience will need to sit through it? There is a well-acted and shorter R-rated version of Shame buried somewhere underneath this one, and it’s a shame to think of how much more powerful that version could have been. Is the director trying to make a rebellious statement by releasing it as an NC-17 film? I think that a few cuts here and there would have been the bolder move actually.
The story follows Brandon (played with great intensity by Michael Fassbender), who is a sex addict. He somehow scores women despite coming across more like a serial-rapist-in-waiting. When he doesn’t hook up, he is ordering prostitutes to his apartment, or surfing the internet for porn. He has created his own personal beehive, his secluded apartment loft where he lives in isolation. None of this is portrayed in a way that it is comedic or light. Shame has no shame, and tries hard to show the ugliness of sex addiction, mainly by stretching out uncomfortable sex scenes beyond the point of squeamishness, or by having people walk naked unchecked in and out of the frame.
When Brandon’s sister Sissy (played by Carey Mulligan against type), shows up unexpectedly, Brandon’s routine is thrown for a loop. She has her own set of problems. Where Brandon is inverted, Sissy is extroverted…she literally wears her problems on her sleeves, where Brandon cages them deep within.
The true feeling of shame should come from director Steve McQueen, who mangles the handling of this material. Two specific sex scenes, one towards the beginning and the other at the end, encapsulate his excessive need that more is more. If ever, this movie needed less. The nudity and graphic nature of the film were a distraction. Must the director shoot the film as a sex addict himself? I fear that if Steve McQueen did a film on alcoholism, he’d be completely wasted the entire shoot.
That being said, Fassbender and Mulligan deserve credit for taking on such roles. Carey Mulligan, one of my favorite current actresses in Hollywood, has an enchanting quality of innocence in most films…not here. She is good, but I fear that she is getting much more credit here than she deserves. She has a few scenes of loud outburst, but is a clichéd one-note character. Simply disrobing on-camera doesnt' earn you acting kudos in my book. Her rendition of New York, New York in one scene is beautiful to watch (namely because it stays close-up on her face the entire scene), but has no place in the film, other to show McQueen’s affinity for lingering in scenes for too long.
I found myself captivated by Fassbender’s performance and was interested enough to stay it through to the end. I still feel that there was a missed opportunity to make a more focused version of Shame, one with less gratuity and unnecessary sideshow impulses. Nothing is learned in Shame, no message of how or why people become or battle addiction, and definitely no point to it all that I could see. It is a magnifying glass held so closely, that it loses focus.
[Shame just received wins from the Detroit Film Critics Society, for Best Actor – Michael Fassbender, and Best Supporting Actress – Carey Mulligan.]
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