The first time I noticed Maria Bello, in Coyote Ugly by Jerry Bruckheimer for Women, her unsmiling weariness felt all wrong; you do Bruckheimer movies to have a bit of trashy fun, not to treat your part as den mother to a bunch of semi-strippers with deadly seriousness. It turns out she was just in the wrong movie: Bello has since revealed a gift for wounded gravitas, playing strong, sexual, conflicted women in movies like The Cooler and A History of Violence, complicating what could've been simple love-interest parts.
Now, with, Downloading Nancy, Bello finds herself in the wrong movie again, and this, not the script's smug attempts at transgression, makes it a depressing, deadening experience. Bello's Nancy is a woman broken by childhood abuse and coping with her oppressive marriage to Albert (Rufus Sewell) via an online life that the movie barely bothers to depict. Soon she escapes to meet up with chat buddy Louis (Jason Patric) and act out her entwined sex and death fantasies IRL.
That elusive real-life authenticity comes through in the film's environs — shabby carpets, bus stations, clunky-looking PCs — more than its characters. Rather than engaging the idea of a lonely woman finding solace (or oblivion) online, the filmmakers use it as an excuse for a wallow in generic misery, expressed in flashbacks (we see Nancy and Albert's relationship go from awful to still just as awful) and plenty of stagily vague dialogue. Bello gives it her all — such that the movie's incompetence feels almost like abuse.