"THE TRUTH is, sex doesn't mean that much to me anymore."
That was Lana Turner in the final restful decades of her life. And the truth was, Lana, despite her many lovers, never cared much for sex -- at least that is what she wrote in her autobiography. She insisted it was all about the "romance." I guess the sex just happened -- doesn't it always?! (It was during this celibate period that I finally met Lana. She was sweet, but disappointingly not the ribald sexy woman I was expecting.)
•A COUPLE of years ago I was persuaded to see Lars von Trier's Melancholia. It was an end-of-the-world movie. Although I had a feeling it was not going to be another 2012, or Armageddon, or even Deep Impact. Hey, it was titled Melancholia. It lived up to the title. I'm sure I'd be depressed if I knew the end of the world was imminent, but I honestly don't think I'd be that depressed. Or bored. At one point, I seriously considered the end of the world would be preferable to another ten minutes with Melancholia. Eventually it ended -- the movie, not the world -- and I vowed never to see another von Trier movie. (Although I admit Dogville was fascinating and disturbing. But I saw that only because I wanted to keep track of what the eclectic Nicole Kidman was up to, and Lauren Bacall was in it too.)
So when von Trier's Nymphomaniac (Vol 1 and 2) was in production, nothing about this project attracted me. And the more I heard about it, the less palatable it became. The sex scenes, involving the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Shia LaBeouf, and some real-life porn actors, got a lot of advance buzz. But I didn't need to see this. (I have Showtime and HBO, the go-to places for breasts, buttocks and southern exposure.)
Then I read some intriguing reviews and figured, well, maybe I'd go see Vol 1, which seems to have received the most positive notices. So I did.
Perhaps a more complex, more cinematically intelligent mind, can accurately critique Nymphomaniac. It's the story of a debased woman who is sort of a hyper-sexed, grimy Scheherazade, picked up in dire circumstances by Stellan Skarsgard. She proceeds, with considerable shame, to recount her long life of debauchery.
Some people have found this movie funny and incisive about female sexuality and the state of humanity. I didn't. And it's certainly not sexy. After the impact of the first few sex scenes, it becomes tiresome. (Memo to younger folks -- too much of a good thing can be too much. Really.) Perhaps director von Trier wasn't trying to be sexy. Well, he succeeded there. Unless you have never seen, or have no idea whatsoever what genitals look like, or what people do with them, you won't be shocked.
•ALMOST every character is unlikable, and when the protagonists aren't having sex, they're talking. A lot. There is some humor and irony but not nearly enough to sustain. Art House aficionados consider it "another von Trier masterpiece" and more power to them. There's a cover for every garbage can.
Charlotte Gainsbourg as the older nympho, with the odd name of Joe, is certainly the least happy-looking sexually active person in film history. (The younger Joe, Stacy Martin, is not much cheerier.)
• BUT, there is one amazing aspect to this film. It's about seven minutes long and it's Uma Thurman. She plays Mrs. H, the embittered wife of a faithless man, and has a confrontation scene that, frankly, is Oscar-worthy. It's funny and sad and over-the-top and the only point at which the movie comes to life. In fact, the audience I saw Nymphomaniac with broke into the film with a huge round of applause for Thurman, who has also contributed a great new line of dialogue to the film canon of memorable quotes: "Shall we show the children the whoring bed?"
• Nymphomaniac is basically a lot of pretentious mumbo-jumbo peppered with graphic sex. I will not waste my time on Vol 2. But Uma Thurman is the real deal. She puts the rest of the film, and most of her co-stars, amongst them Christian Slater, to shame.
There's a lot to be seen of Shia LaBeouf, and more, so it's said, in the uncut version. But it is the incredible accent he attempts here that is the giggle-inducing bad-movie attraction. Shia says he doesn't want to be famous anymore. (No problem, kid -- you're on your way.)