Dir/scr: Jeff Stanzler. US. 2005. 84mins.
Jeff Stanzler's ambitious,unsettling second feature, Sorry, Hatersdeals in some disturbing imagery and visceral contemporary relevance,attempting to say something provocative about US culture and its frayed socialfabric in the wake of September 11.
Unfortunately, its Hitchcockian treatment of sin, guilt and transferenceproduces a dramatic imbalance that undermines the emotional credibility thematerial requires.
Given political volatilityand Stanzler's awkward handling, this low-budget productionwill represent something of a challenge for distributors commercially, whileoverseas its very US theme may not help. Dream Entertainment picked upinternational rights at AFM; deals before then included Nexofor Italy.
Featuring a brave, ifproblematic, lead performance from Robin Wright Penn, Stanzler'sfirst feature since Jumpin
Phoebe (Wright Penn) is anangry, disillusioned white hipster who heads programming for Q Dog TV, acutting edge, hip-hop network whose most popularprogramme supplies the feature's playfully ironic title.
Ashade (Kechice, the director of L'Esquive) is aSyrian-born chemist who makes a living driving a New York cab. Introduced athis mosque partaking in daily prayers, he is distraught over his brother'spolitical detainment and the attendant problems raising the money to hire aqualified immigration lawyer. He's also wracked with guilt over his strongsexual attraction to his beautiful sister-in-law Eloise (the under-used Bouchez).
One night Phoebe flags down Ashade's cab, and immediately the power dynamics betweenthe two, as they argue over money, signals the tense, angry sense of imminentcollapse and breakdown.
As the pair progress fromLower Manhattan to suburban New Jersey to Midtown, Phoebe slowly andmethodically insinuates herself into Ashade's life.Controlling and manipulative, she invites herself into Eloise's apartment,where the young French-Canadian emigree lives withher young son.
Correctly intuiting Ashade's attraction to Eloise, Phoebe asserts her will onthe essentially good, if confused, man. In turn Phoebe gains Ashade's trust by presenting herself as an aggrieved motherand victimised wife whose privileged life was taken away from her.
But Phoebe's control over Ashade carries grim consequences. In the first indicationthat Phoebe is seriously distraught, she invites Ashadeto participate in a terrorist act in order to claim martyr status for hisbrother.
By the final third Stanzler has lost control of his feature, orchestrating aseries of dramatic plot and character reversals that forces a constantreconsideration that radically changes the scale of the movie.
Stanzler earns credit for hubris, though the extreme tonalshift is not grounded in any form of recognisable behaviour nor characterdetail.
Wright Penn certainlycommands the screen, though her performance, seemingly modelled on thelower-class working women Gena Rowlandsplayed to perfection in her films with John Cassavetessuch as A Woman Under TheInfluence, becomes increasingly hysterical and mannered.
In many respects it's abravura performance, but also so painful and lacerating to watch that it losesall subtlety and distinction, producing a severe break with the necessaryaudience identification. The watcher is left continually on the outside, tryingto make sense of the madness.
Robin Wright Penn