Some Velvet Morning
Directed by Neil LaBute
Multi-hyphenate provocateur Neil LaBute goes back to basics with this film, which deals in the pernicious gender politics and interpersonal turmoil in which the director most gleefully revels. In many ways Velvet feels like the foregone, tongue-in-cheek conclusion to a trilogy that chronicles misogyny vis-à-vis male identity anxieties, beginning with LaBute’s debut black comedy In the Company of Men and continuing through The Shape of Things. A word to the uninitiated: LaBute is a master of the slow burn, especially here; he doesn’t really get dirty until the film’s explosive final minutes. But give yourself over, and it’s worth the wait: LaBute’s objectives crystalize into something delightfully maniacal.
The titular textile is actually a nickname: Velvet (Alice Eve) unexpectedly, begrudgingly welcomes Fred (Stanley Tucci) into her home one morning. He arrives with luggage in tow and a glint in his eye; he’s left his wife of 20 years and is ready to commit to his relationship with Velvet, which has fallen off in the past year. Roughly twice her age, Fred is a handsome, rugged A-type, a lawyer whom she met while she was dating his son and moonlighting as a prostitute.
LaBute lets their dynamic unfold with churlish delight, creating an increasingly discomfiting environment as each bares their teeth. Velvet has the transgressive feel of an off-Broadway play: it’s set in one location, a small, claustrophobia-inducing apartment; and through lots of coy, circuitous dialogue, the couple’s relationship becomes clearer as they poke and prod one another about past failings and the potential problems moving forward. Still, the details revealed offer few explanations, and the he said/she said repartee quickly descends into grisly bickering.
Tucci plays against type and is, as usual, fantastic. But it’s Alice Eve’s roller-coaster performance that stands out: she travails the emotional terrain with ease, delivering one of the year’s best performances. If you’re pissed off at the end then LaBute has likely accomplished his goals. Some Velvet Morning is his best film in a decade.
Opens December 13