Tribeca 2013: In Defense of Neil LaBute

04/29/2013 3:20 PM |

Some Velvet Morning Neil LaBute Stanley Tucci

Despite the controversy Neil LaBute invites, he seems, at heart, to be a sincere moralist. His works are often pegged as misogynistic or racially insensitive, but actually they’re about misogyny and racial insensitivity; superficial views obscure how little he thinks of vitriolic characters, charismatic and confident though they may be. Even his most reviled film, the notorious Wicker Man remake, has plausibly feminist readings in the way it amplifies anti-women sentiments to the point that they are overtly ludicrous. (Spike Lee’s She Hate Me does something similar.) His latest, Some Velvet Morning, a claustrophobic examination of power dynamics and sexual violence, defies easy analysis.

It will inevitably be analyzed through the prism of its ending, which is likely to infuriate audiences for the way it pulls the rug out from under its themes and brushes off what transpired for the majority of the running time. As the surprise nature of the relationship forms the core of the movie, let us just say that it involves Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve—both of them excellent—who have a complicated history and, over the course of 90 minutes, reveal it and then redefine it. As it takes place in one location and unfolds in essentially real time, it’s surprising that Velvet didn’t start out as a play. Like the recent adaptation of God of Carnage, it marshals great actors and vivid dialogue in the service of something that’s almost defiantly uncinematic; perhaps the stage is a more appropriate medium for this story, which needs the spark that live performers would provide. It’s effective, but to a questionable purpose. And it raises the question: given that the ending is what it is, does it make sense that the writing and acting are so good?

The Tribeca Film Festival is over, but this should eventually be released in theaters, don’t you think?