J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Lotus Eaters: The Beautiful and the Debauched

If a future generation ever really wanted to create their own unique identity they would study hard, eagerly join the work force, and compulsively save.  Of course, hedonism is more fun, especially when there is a hipster filmmaker around to pretend you invented the dissolute lifestyle.  True to the Bret Easton Ellis tradition, Alexandra McGuinness casts a glossy eye on the London smart set in Lotus Eaters (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Except for Alice, nobody in her circle of frienemies has ever held a proper job.  She happens to be a model.  She would like to transition into an acting career, but that looks unlikely for reasons of talent (or lack thereof).  Everyone else spends all their time doing drugs, having sex, and playing mind games with each other.  This especially includes her not-so reformed heroin-addict on-again-off-again boyfriend, Charlie.  She would like to make it work with him, but he seems too self-destructive even by her friends’ standards.  As a result, she starts responding to the duller but wealthier Felix.  His ex is none too pleased, whereas master manipulator Orna seems to enjoy the chaos.

All critics seem to agree on how striking Gareth Munden’s Herb Ritts-inspired black-and-white cinematography is, which is all well and good.  As a screen drama though, Lotus is pretty much a mess.  The characters are dull, the situations predictable, and the tone is ridiculously self-important.  At least McGuinness is not afraid to cut lose.  Frankly, by the third act, Lotus seems be deliberately parodying itself and other pretentious art films, concluding with an outrageously over-the-top finale that will either cause your jaw to drop or your sides to ache.  That might not be what McGuinness was going for exactly, but at least it makes the film distinctive.

As Alice, the waifish Antonia Campbell-Hughes tends to blend into the white backgrounds unobtrusively.  Likewise, the Byronic bad boy thing folksinger Johnny Flynn does as Charlie gets old quickly.  Strangely, a lot of the flavor comes from the supporting cast.  While some are rather clunky, Cynthia Fortune Ryan is an intriguing presence as Orna while Jay Choi adds some mischievous flair as Lulu.

Oddly enough, Lotus Eaters is really quite a retro viewing experience.  It is all about its surface sheen and neo-new wave soundtrack.  Had it come out in the 1980’s it would have been a sensation, but three decades or so later just feels like empty sound and spectacle.  Recommended for fans of Mommie Dearest and similarly overwrought cult oddities, Lotus Eaters opens tomorrow (4/5) in New York at the Village East.