It’s no coincidence that Savage Grace, which begins on the Upper East Side in 1946 and ends in Swinging London in 1972, announces every stop in its path with intertitles in the same typeface used by The New Yorker — that rag and this flick share a similarly gelid air of faux intellectualism and leisure-class entitlement. However, the film’s meticulously arranged sets, bespoke haberdashery and mannequin characters are also reminiscent of Vanity Fair and Vogue.
At the start of this summer season, when the aspiration of many filmmakers is to create fidgety motion pictures that look as much as possible like video games, director Tom Kalin (Swoon) has instead given us something attractive, vacant and mostly sedentary — a movie that mimics a lifestyle magazine.
Adapted from a true-crime book, Savage Grace is the story of an unhealthily close mother-son relationship that leads to incest and murder (the rich, remember, are different from you and me). As Barbara Baekeland, the redheaded vixen who marries the heir to the Bakelite fortune (Stephen Dillane) and begets him a disappointing son (Eddie Remayne), Julianne Moore is at her cold fish best. But Moore’s deep performance doesn’t render this pretentious piece of wealth porn any less trite.
From Henry James to Patricia Highsmith, the intersection of WASP privilege with psychosexual class anxieties has been the subject of many Great American Novels. And yet Savage Grace is too admiring of what money can buy to provide any useful critique. Presumably, Kalin’s repeated, fetishizing close-ups of Bakelite-encased objects are meant to symbolize the plasticity of his characters’ lives. But all those shots really do is imply that his form follows their content.
Opens May 30 at IFC Center