The Dying Gaul (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
A Hollywood producer just has to obtain a hot new script called The Dying Gaul, which is a tragic love story about how a devoted homosexual relationship ended with the death of one partner, as scripted by the other partner. Only one problem - he wants to produce the film as a tragic hetero love story, and the author is opposed to making the change. With a combination of charm and lots of money, the producer manages to convince the author to play ball. And then they start playing much more than that. Turns out the producer is bi-sexual, and was already in love with the author after having read his brilliant, soulful script. Turns out that the producer's wife is also just about in love with the author who, after all, did have a wife and kids himself, so he must have some interest in women, right?
The wife, a brilliant and bored housewife who used to be a screenwriter herself, decides to engage in some safe cybersex with the author, all the while hiding behind a male identity. Of course, as the author confides ever more intimate secrets to his new online pal, he eventually confesses that he's having an affair with a certain producer. This comes as shocking news to the wife, who had no idea that her devoted husband was either unfaithful or bi-sexual. Rather than confronting the two men with the secret, she decides to fuck with their heads.
All of that is merely the set-up. Many twists follow.
Man, this is an unpleasant movie.
It is also quite good.
Yes, it is quite competent, but it is nas-ty! What makes it so deeply cynical is that all three characters are basically decent human beings. Very decent. One might even say that they are all principled, reasonable, and compassionate. They are virtually drawn with "decent" signs on their foreheads. This makes it all the more alarming that they are so willing to hurt one another so deeply, and that they all suffer so greatly. We are used to seeing evil behavior from conniving ice-queens and greedy scumbags, and we normally have no sympathy for the evildoers when they get what's coming to them, even when it is operatically excessive, but it shocks us to see three of the nicest people we have ever seen go to the extent of destroying one another over matters that should never have gone so far, which they should all have talked out, and which all of them would have been decent enough to regret greatly in the long run.
In other words, the script carries the message that we are all, even the most decent of us, capable of hurting the people we love most when we are hurt. And not just hurting them in the sense of uttering a few unkind words, but really hurting them in the sense of completely destroying their lives in the worst ways you can imagine.
The subtext of the film is the Buddhist concept of karma. You get back what you have coming to you. Ye shall reap what ye have sown. I don't have any problem with that, but it seems to me that the characters in this film consistently reaped much more pain than they had sown, and that the harvest kept multiplying constantly until an ending which was downright depressing and over-the-top.
Yup. It's a very sound movie. And I wish I had never watched it.
At one point, the producer character says to the author character, "Nobody goes to movies to have a bad time." Good advice. The people who made this film did not heed it. Unsurprisingly, it did nothing in its theatrical run. The distribution maxed out at 24 screens, and it grossed only $342,000.
Critical reaction was mixed, as you might expect, because while people do not go to movies to have a bad time, some critics think they should. Roger Ebert assigned it 2.5 stars, which seems like the right score to me. I've always felt that 2.5 out of four means "Too good to pan; but not recommended, either." That summarizes this film perfectly.
What about Patricia Clarkson at 45? Has any woman ever done what she has - becoming a sex symbol after so many years as the next door neighbor? There are other women who have played sexy roles at age 45, but they were sexy when they were young - Sharon Stone, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey. Beautiful women are expected to start out sexy, and then the ones with real talent start to play the character parts as they age. But Clarkson somehow went from the Eve Arden roles to the Kim Basinger ones, and Eve Arden is not supposed to turn into Kim Basinger! Throughout Clarkson's youth she was always the dependable gal-pal with the sensible shoes and a husky voice which always sounded best delivering wisecracks and sarcasm and compassionate, well-grounded advice. Now, she appears in the credits in a white bikini with a semi-transparent top, stays in that bikini for several minutes of screen time, and does topless sex scenes. Our Miss Brooks isn't supposed to do that!
And she is just fine in that role. She looks great in that bikini. Her tummy is flat and her whole body looks young, slim, and well-exercised. Her face is not a young woman's face but, hell, she didn't even have a young women's face when she was young. It was always one of those "faces with character." Yet her face is beautiful in its way. She looks much better in moving pictures than in stills because she's pale and fair-haired and from a distance she seems to have no eyebrows, so we need to see how she moves her facial muscles to appreciate the humanity which underlies her beauty. Her eyes are compassionate, and her face is exceedingly expressive. It's surprising to me that she has never become a recognizable name. Then again, given her astounding reverse career path, she may yet make it.
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