When Will I Be Loved
dir. James Toback
Opens Fri Sept 24.

When Will I Be Loved is a cautionary tale: This is what happens when a terrible filmmaker is given the freedom to believe he is an important artist. The filmmaker in question is James Toback, previous creator of such semi-improvisational trash as Black & White and Two Girls and a Guy, and if his new venture proves anything it's that shit lightning can strike not just twice, but thrice.

The story? Nutshelled, it's like this: Neve Campbell takes a shower, masturbates, sleeps with a woman, sleeps with a man, sleeps with another man, accidentally causes a murder, and, for good measure, takes another shower. Everything else is superfluous--to Toback especially, since the sight of Campbell's ass is all he's apparently interested in. This is one of those films that is little more than Skinemax fare stamped with indie approval; if you hear a strange slapping noise on the soundtrack don't be alarmed, it's probably the director rubbing one out behind the camera.

The setting for this travesty is, of course, New York. Campbell is Vera, a spoiled little girl whose chosen profession is devouring men. As the film opens, Vera has just moved into a place of her own, and this being a Toback film, that place is an absurdly glamorous loft. The eagle-eyed will notice something curious about the loft, however, as it appears to have been heavily inspired by Paul and Camille's crib in Contempt--an inspiration marginally noted by Toback in When Will I Be Loved's press notes. "I was drawn to Belle de Jour and Contempt," the director admits. "Both those films really resonate in my mind in some unconscious way. But I wasn't trying to redo them in any way." Evidently his words didn't reach the production designer, though, for even Godard's shockingly bright red couch can be found in Vera's spacious loft. If only When Will I Be Loved had a modicum of Contempt's intelligence, or its curiosity about human behavior.

The ties to Godard go beyond furniture theft: Toback has attempted to infuse When Will I Be Loved with an air of improvisation as well. The problem is, his talents don't extend to directing actors; if anything, his lack of filmmaking talent allows his actors too much freedom, making his film far too loose for its own good. Toback is a writer (and occasionally a damn good one--just see Bugsy, a great script arguably squandered by Barry Levinson), and the few decent moments in When Will I Be Loved are the ones that are obviously scripted. One such moment occurs between Vera and a septuagenarian billionaire named Count Tommaso Lupo (Dominic Chianese), who has been sent to Vera's loft by her sleazy boyfriend Ford (Frederick Weller). The Count has long had a thing for Vera, and Vera, having agreed to sleep with him so that Ford can collect a $100,000 finders fee (again: he's very sleazy), banters back and forth with the Count with a sort of playful scorn. It's a sharp scene, one that exposes Vera as a cunning hunter, and that admits, for the only time in the film, that there might be something untoward about a guy in his 70s wanting to get it on with a girl in her 20s. Unfortunately, Toback refuses to build on it, and within moments the film is off wandering again, remaining unfocused and, for the most part, saturated with pure drivel.

Far more annoying than the film's drifting, though, is the fact that under the guise of some sort of rumination on muscular female will, Toback has turned Vera into little more than a whore. She may be strong, she may be gleefully manipulative, but she's also a slut--which would be fine if Toback had been courageous enough to fully admit it. Instead, he attempts to delude us into thinking that what we're watching is somehow pro-woman--that Vera is smartly flipping the tables on the men who only wish to mount her--when in fact it's nearly the complete opposite. And he's apparently deluded Neve Campbell as well, for on a recent appearance on the Independent Film Channel's Dinner for Five she offered up a whopper of a cliché: that she'll only do nudity if it's important to plot. Egads. If lingering shots of Neve naked in the shower constitute importance in plot, then Russ Meyer is a plotting genius. He's certainly a far more honest filmmaker than Toback.

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