If the mark of a film's success is to invoke empathy with the characters, then Neil LaBute's “Some Velvet Morning” is wildly and unorthodoxly successful. The empathy in this case isn't a mere “oh, how I feel for that person on the screen,” but a visceral connection, a chemical reaction beyond storytelling that, since Neil LaBute's work has long had a proclivity toward sadism, left me feeling flushed, a little dizzy and even a tad nauseous.
“Some Velvet Morning” is a horror film with no blood, with words the only weapon for 98% of the picture. Alice Eve, shattering any perception of being a mere Kidman 2.0, and Stanley Tucci, strikingly toxic and repulsive, spend 90 minutes on an emotional see-saw, weaving back and forth through a protracted argument in an uncluttered brownstone. It is very much a “filmed play,” a subgenre of cinema that frequently seems difficult to justify.
A good deal of the film's triumph comes from the total lack of context. All character understanding comes from scrutinizing the dialogue. It takes a good while to understand the dynamic of Eve & Tucci's relationship, and just when you think you've put the puzzle together a new piece of backstory arrives to mess it up.
We open with Eve relaxed and listening to classical music, interrupted by the doorbell. There is Tucci, loaded with baggage (physical, but hell yes on the mental, too) making a surprise visit.
He's up and left his wife. Is Eve his lover? Not quite. They had a relationship, years ago, and they haven't kept in touch. They met through his son which, it turns out, Eve was seeing and ... to Tucci's surprise, still is, despite the son being recently married.
Eve's sparsely furnished brownstone (looks like Brooklyn, but never stated) is a tidy bore of off-whites and beiges, rendering her simple red dress all the more seductive. Alice Eve is, by all conventional standards of beauty, something of a template. Tucci, a financially secure and seemingly professional individual, is reduced to a knot of short circuiting wires in her presence. He professes great love and, while that may be what he thinks it is, her boundless sexuality can change him with a snap into a brutal beast, barking profanities and making vicious accusations.
Eve, while definitively the more sympathetic character, is no saint. She has more than a few opportunities to end the encounter, but is driven, either by some sort of affection or a masochistic need, to prolong Tucci's stay.
WARNING: NO SPECIFIC SPOILERS LIE AHEAD, BUT FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO EXPERIENCE THIS UNIQUE FILM WITH IDEAL PURITY MAY WANT TO JUMP SHIP NOW
The vice-grip scenario gets increasingly stressful, with quite a number of twists and revelations until a final shocker that, I can only hope, you'll forget I even mentioned by the time you watch it.
The movie concludes with someone being violated. It would be the height of inappropriateness for me to say that watching a movie is in any way equivalent to actual experience, but I will profess that I felt emotionally exploited by the way LaBute pulls the rug out. I was worked up into an emotional frenzy under somewhat counterfeit conditions, and the result left me feeling . . .exactly how I was supposed to feel.
Since I saw “Some Velvet Morning” unaccompanied, I was compelled, 30 seconds after its conclusion, to tweet “Screw Neil LaBute!” Some interpreted this to mean I disliked the film. I don't know if I'll ever say I “liked” it, but I can safely say I am in awe of it. It is a rough ride that goes to a dark place, then doubles-down, then kicks you in the stomach as you lay on the carpet.
“Filmed plays” can sometimes be annoying. I frequently wonder what meaning the alternate medium brings. In the recent example of Polanski's “Carnage,” it was all about the escalating tension in the editing. With “Some Velvet Morning,” the camerawork doesn't call much attention to itself – except for one shot. One close up. One moment at the film's climax – a way to experience this story in a manner someone in Row J at a Roundabout Theatre Company production never could. Since the film has yet to announce its distribution plans, it would be a crime against culture to get into it too deeply. But when it's out and people are discussing it – and they will be – I'll be primed to defend (no, attack. No, discuss!) this film, its ending(s) and its implications at length. And I am long of the belief that any film that can inspire such a reaction out of me is a “good” one.
SCORE: 8.5 / 10