Cinema Signal:

Complicated Women
by Mick LaSalle

. "When Will I Be Loved"

More a character study than a drama, "When Will I Be Loved" is a portrait of a woman that the filmmaker seems to think is contemporary and intriguing. I found I found the truth of the character questionable, her actions inconsistent, and the personality magnetic, the hook being the presence of beautiful Neve Campbell.

Besides her unifying possession of the central role, the compilation of scenes hold together generally as a vehicle for an essentially prurient mentality. It's as though the mind that formulated it, James Toback's, is substituting a storytelling aesthetic with a fixation on libidinous interests. Perhaps, to him, film art is not all about sex, but you couldn't tell it from this pastiche of voyeurism.

After opening the film with Vera (Campbell) awakening one morning, we're treated to full body shots while she takes a shower along with the main titles. She then goes out on a job interview with Professor Hassan Al-Ibrahim Ben Rabinowitz (Toback) who apparently conducts his personnel appointments on the street.

As they walk and talk they encounter different people. When his attention is distracted, she takes the opportunity to single out men passing by whom she aggressively invites to date her. This culminates in a verbal clash over their respective concerns -- his over her bizarre dating behavior; hers over his obvious interest being in having sex with her.

The scene comes off as a poorly written improv and seems motivated more by lechery than credible reality. To cap it off, uncharming Rabinowitz offers her the job as a face-saving maneuver but there's not only no further sign of the alleged professor in the movie but no indication that she's ever been in need of a job. She lives in a posh New York apartment at the expense of her wealthy parents.

Once the short story with Toback-Rabinowitz is out of the way, we're introduced to Ford (Fred Weller), Vera's boyfriend, a street hustler with a con man's charm. Soon after we see him trying to put together a scam with an associate, there's an isolated scene of him being made love to outdoors on a hillside by three (count 'em, 3) women. All right, so this concentration on free love (and wish fulfillment) builds our understanding of these characters (and, perhaps, the lines at the theatre), but it's hard to conclude that it's anything more than the realization of a not-too-talented filmmaker's randy agenda.

Toback credits Campbell with helping to shape a script that has all the earmarks of a "work in progress." While there are undoubtedly some who will elevate this kind of filmmaking adventurism to the status of "spontaneity," I couldn't get the impression of creative desperation out of mind.

The main episode, which seems to contain the film's essential meaning and provides the ad tagline ("Revenge is a dish best served hot"), involves this willful, provocative and poised woman agreeing to a tryst for money. Set up by Ford, who is by now being seen by Vera as the unconscionable self-promoter that he is (with sociopathic tendencies?) the liaison involves rich Count Tommaso (Dominic Chianese of "The Sopranos" fame) in a killer negotiation over carnal gratification and money. It involves a "surprise" twist to make a point of Vera's ultimate superiority as a gender tactician.

Were it not for Campbell's classy magnetism and a fine ability to breath life into a thinly conceived role, a scenario formed out of such lurid motivations would be easier to reject. I appreciate that she had the chance to embody even an ill-conceived character. Displaying the physical flexibility of a dancer in a warmup stretch, she then shows how far you can take a sex scene without excision by the porno police. My hope is that she will soon get a big role in a significant piece of work, which this is not. Toback is no Bertolucci.

To me, the question is, when will Neve Campbell emerge from her dependence on horror film directors ("Scream 1,2 and 3") and artfilm directors (Robert Altman's "The Company"), and blow us away as a kickass star in the majors? Click for full list of movie reviews

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Neve Campbell and Dominic Chianese
A negotiation that's a killer

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