J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Perfection: Hell’s Cellos


Jazz is superior to classical music, because it values individuality of sound over note-for-note precision. That might be a bold statement, but Charlotte Willmore is probably ready to buy into it. She was once the brightest star at the world’s most prestigious academy for cellists, but not anymore. It is safe to say she had a bad experience there. When an opportunity arises, she will act on her pent-up frustrations in Richard Shepard’s The Perfection, which starts streaming today on Netflix.

Willmore was top of the heap at the academy, but she was forced to leave when her mother has a debilitating stroke. When the infirm woman finally dies years later, Willmore tentatively reaches out to Anton, her old headmaster. At his invitation, she appears at an academy event, where she meets their current reining star, Elizabeth Wells. A fast friendship with romantic overtones quickly develops between them. Willmore even agrees to accompany Wells on her vacation through China. At first, they have a great time together, but then things take a shockingly dark turn. Several more of those will follow.

Perfection is one of those films that requires a lot of cautious tap-dancing to avoid giving away spoilers in the review. The twists are definitely the thing, as we can tell from the way Shepard literally rewinds the film to show each how each surprise shoe really dropped. Unfortunately, the last big twist is so obvious, you can see it coming down Broadway, proceeded by a marching band. Honestly, it is annoying to twist yourself into a pretzel to avoid revealing plot turns that Shepard and co-screenwriters Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder give away through sheer lack of subtlety. On the other hand, the first act shocker that seems to bother people makes perfect sense within the context of the film.

Be that as it may, Allison Williams and Logan Browning both have gloriously unhinged moments as Willmore and Wells, respectively. It is not just them. Almost everyone seen on-screen eventually has their go-for-broke scenes. That is especially true of Steven Weber, who chews the scenery without guilt or restraint. We know he is a clay-footed hypocrite, because: #1: he is an authority figure, #2: he represents the elitist refinement of Western Culture, and #3: he is a man.

While the maniacal Bette Davis-Joan Crawford claw-fighting is jolly fun, the real guts of the film is pretty darned exploitative. Obviously, it is inspired by news stories like the U.S. Gymnastics scandal, but the vibe is shamelessly lurid. There is a fine line demarcating forthright topicality from crass cash-ins, but The Perfection swerves back-and-forth across it, like a drunk driver barreling down an empty country highway.

Thanks to the impressive commitment of Williams, Browning, and Weber, The Perfection starts off the rails and careens further into bedlam with each scene. You have to enjoy the madness, like a marginally more grounded Suspiria (the new one), but it doesn’t have the depth or wider cultural significance it thinks it does (but who wants those things in a horror movie or a psycho-thriller anyway?). Recommended as a fasten-your-seat-belts-its-going-to-be-a-bumpy-night kind of stream, The Perfection premieres today on Netflix.

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