Photographer and video artist Laurel Nakadate has been lobbing her creepily striking but one-note cherry bombs about the sexual effect women have on men at the contemporary art world for years now—and to the absolute delight of critics all over, who’ve praised Nakadate’s art for its unique understanding of the “male gaze” and for blurring the lines between hunter and hunted (per Jerry Saltz of The Village Voice). Stay the Same Never Change, her first feature-length fiction, is essentially a cynical 93-minute reel of what we’re used to from the Yalie: images of scantily clad Midwestern girls luring gross men into performing sexual and violent acts on them (consciously or unconsciously, though you can never really tell given the nature of the film’s subprotozoan performances), inviting the type of critical analysis they only teach in gender studies courses.
Pandering to devotees of Laura Mulvey and art installations, Nakadate strands her characters—if they can be called that—in tableau after tableau depicting some elaborate show of willful female victimization Nakadate will tell you has been prescribed by men. All the girls, and this is a testament to Nakadate’s flattening philosophical vision, may as well be one in the same: the one who invites two men (one black, one white) to drown her during a swim and, after scaring them away, drowns her teddy bear (tragically, it’s the film’s only casualty); the one who sits on a rock while a group of half-naked schlubs who’ve just left their wives and girlfriends behind surround her in comatose pre-coital excitement (some even hold weapons); and the one—Nakadate’s most absurdly self-hating creation—who constructs a blow-up man in homage to the dipshit she wants to get with at school.
The men, who seem lured to their prey simply by its mere existence, do nothing but stand around in rapt confusion, like flies being led to bug-zapper slaughter, some with black bars over their eyes, suggesting they’re guilty of something (what exactly that is doesn’t matter, only that you understand they’re accountable for something bad). Imagine only the worst tendencies of Gus Van Sant, Matthew Barney, Todd Solandz, and Miranda July’s art combined together and you’re still nowhere close to approximating the mind-numbing torpor and condescension of Nakadate’s fashionably unfeeling vision, which doesn’t provoke insightful or humane inquiry into the relationship between men and women and their environment so much as it shines a light on an artist’s prurient, shamelessly exploitative, and attention-grabbing instincts.