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.
- IFC Films
- 81 min
- James Toback
- James Toback
- Neve Campbell, Dominic Chianese, Frederick Weller, Ashley Shelton, James Toback, Alex Feldman, Brandon Sommers, Mike Tyson, Lori Singer
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