Studios get scared of the first weekend of December; the convention wisdom seems to be that after Thanksgiving, many people shop (not like, uh, Black Friday?) and busy themselves with holiday activities (not like, uh, every weekend before Christmas? And/or not at all, for people who don’t care about or celebrate Christmas?), and have no time to go to the movies, which I guess is why there are zero wide releases on this weekend and ten over the course of the rest of the month (mostly on Christmas weekend—because you know when people totally aren’t distracted by Christmas stuff? Christmas!). Luckily, you probably live in what Michael Keaton referred to as New York Fucking City, where there are always new movies, sometimes even high-profile ones, even on off weekends.
Appropriately, two of this weekend’s are about fucking. In Shame, or Michael Fassbender Has a Discomforting Relationship with Sex, Part Two: Already Better than Either Breaking Dawn Movie, Fassbender’s Brandon is, in fact, fucking his way through New York City, with the kind of fixed expression that suggests he’s working out some issues, not, you know, engaging in sex-positive fun.
While his Jung in the Cronenberg movie is clinical and period-appropriate repressed, Brandon uses just about every modern resource (like laptops) and some less-modern ones (like prostitutes) to engage in sex as often as possible. Yes, this is an addiction movie, and I suppose it’s easy to interpret it as a humorless, sex-fearing one (at least as far as NC-17 movies go). No less than Bret Easton Ellis smugly tweeted that the movie would be so much more disturbing if Brandon looked like he was enjoying any of the sex at all. My counterpoint: Huh? Would that be disturbing, or would that pretty much just be Alfie?
I’m not sure, anyway, if Shame intends to disturb; it does make a few turns into melodrama, but more than anything, it’s a double character study in how Brandon and his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan, excellent) use sex in their lives; they seem to be dealing with an unspoken childhood trauma. Director Steve McQueen focuses on his characters with impressive patience (and technically impressive long takes).
I don’t quite agree with The L’s Henry Stewart that it’s full of Catholic hysteria, any more than Requiem for a Dream is about how pot will ruin your life. In examining the mechanics of a sex addict’s life, Shame is too fascinating to be totally moralistic—it has more emotional range than your average wallow—or downright chilling, but the dead-eyed concentration with which Brandon regards his laptop porn sure is (the latter, I mean).
I haven’t seen this weekend’s other sex nightmare, Sleeping Beauty, but stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Emily Browning plays a young girl used by powerful men in a twisted whorehouse gloss on fairy-tale, fantasy, and wish-fulfillment. Yeah, this movie may have come out already. Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty will almost certainly have fewer robots than Sucker Punch; it will probably also have more actual sex, and we’ll see if Leigh can get out of her own way more ably than her accidental big-studio counterpart (let’s assume so).