Director: Neil LaBute
It’s tough to talk about Some Velvet Morning in any way without spoiling it – it’s a film that works because of two magnificent performances (Stanley Tucci as Fred, Alice Eve as Velvet). There are only the two characters on screen, they’re on screen together the whole time, in one location – Velvet’s house. There’s a brief trip to the back yard but for the most part we follow them room to room as the dialogue drives the movie, and it plays out in real time.
We know that these two know one another – there’s been a break, if not a breakdown in communication – and we watch them play chess with their sentences, taking turns to reveal parts of their shared history, and of their place in the world now.
We’re used to such things from Neil LaBute, he loves to present flawed and ugly characters, particularly by dressing them up as beautiful looking creatures. He loves to explore gender dynamics and to create some of the most deeply misogynistic and loathsome male characters across his efforts for the page, the stage and the screen.
But what makes this very close to a revelation – beyond the astounding performances – is that, on film at least, LaBute has been floundering for the last decade. Confused remakes (The Wicker Man) and pointless remakes (Death At A Funeral) have followed on from strange diversions (Lakeview Terrace) and pained literary adaptations (Possession) and it’s almost ruined that stunning early work where – based on his own stage plays – LaBute adapted winning movie treatments and coaxed wonderful performances (In The Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors). It seems a long time since The Shape of Things.
Well Some Velvet Morning returns us to that world – the LaBute world that borrows from Pinter and Mamet, that updates the bickering-as-sport and between-the-sexes feuding of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Tucci delights in playing a jerk – he’s done it before, but here he brings a Ben Kinsley-like intensity to his role. Eve subverts her obvious eye-candy factor here by playing a role that exists for entirely that reason but shows hidden depth.
But I wonder if this film can exist for an audience not clued up to what LaBute is about. As someone who has followed his work – sticking by him even for the flops – I loved the claustrophobic feeling of this film and the brutally sharp and ugly verbal jousting.
But to reveal more of the plot in any way would ruin the experience. I’m sure several people will walk away or turn this off before the end. That would be a shame. It’s taut and tough and masterful. But it relies on you holding on through something deeply unsettling only so you can question what you saw and what it is meant to mean at the very end. I love that LaBute can still do that – create that sort of situation on film.
Some Velvet Morning is in that sense a triumph.