Though not as personal as his Black and White, James Toback’s When Will I Be Loved is every bit as visually curt. The pacing is like that of a screwball comedy, but the film’s commentary is obscenely vicious. The writer-director has always struck me as the seemingly uncool white dude with the balls to stand alongside brothers and sisters at poetry slams. Critics have questioned his conflation of black and white culture, but I can’t think of another white director who is as interested in studying the sociological zones where black and white lives intersect. An Indiewood version of Indecent Proposal, When Will I Be Loved is a riveting spoken word experiment about a young hustler, Ford (Frederick Weller), intent on renting out his girlfriend, Vera (Neve Campbell), to a rich Italian count (The Sopranos’ Dominic Chianese). The film gets off to a rocky start with Vera and Ford each making their way back to her apartment from different parts of New York City. It’s as if we’re watching dueling boxers making their way to the ring, with Toback coding strengths and weaknesses in the power struggles and sexual diversions they each encounter along the way. The presence of numerous black characters throughout the film first struck me as specious, but then I realized that Toback seems less interested in the differences between races than he is with the differences between rich and poor. Indeed, every interaction in the film seemingly plays out as an ugly bid for privileged status. Maybe it’s the rich milieu, or perhaps it’s Toback’s obsession with sex and money, but there’s something distinctly “French” about the film’s vernacular. Toback admits that his unconscious fascination with Godard’s Contempt and Buñuel’s Belle du Jour informs the ferociously independent Daddy’s Girl played by a splendid Campbell, but it’s the film’s deceptively playful tone and Toback’s provocative illumination of sexual and identity politics that more closely aligns the film to Jean-Claude Brisseau’s outstanding Secret Things. The director’s many ideas on sex, class, and gender sometimes go nowhere, suggesting a spoken word performance gone horribly wrong, but I can’t think of a more transfixing and complex ballet of images, sounds, and politics all year than Campbell’s ingenious rich bitch seducing and destroying two presumptuous men at once by using her perceived female weaknesses against them.
Image quality on this When Will I Be Loved DVD is a little on the warm side; skin tones are somewhat pinkish, but there's no evidence of color bleeding anywhere in sight, even when Neve Campbell's bright red couch takes center stage. Some dirt and flecks are noticeable, but mostly around chapter stops-it's as if someone came in to clean your apartment but forgot to sweep beneath the doorways. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is crisp through and through, though there's still no excusing the shoddy ADR-work that kicks off chapter seven.
James Toback is a smart dude, but his commentary doesn't suggest a director reflecting on his own film but a professor deconstructing someone else's work for a roomful of students. This is not to say this is a boring track. In fact, it's downright hysterical. For example, when Campbell is seen masturbating with the shower head in the film's opening scene, Toback observes how the "orgasm is suggested by the twitching of the muscles from behind." No kidding! If Toback seems to talk down to his audience, his sense of humor consistently lightens the mood-the highlight of the track may be when he goes off on films that don't cast actors who look like each other when playing characters that are related. Rounding out the disc are "scene sexplorations" with Campbell and Toback, the film's original theatrical trailer, and additional trailers for Code 46 and Wicker Park.
Jeffrey Lyons may be quoted on the front cover, but a real critic (ahem) is quoted on the back.