SIFF Review: Yellow

2013 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
105 minutes

***

There are plenty of films about people with crippling mental illness, but there are far fewer that tell the story through the over-medicated perspective of the afflicted. “Yellow” is the closest that schlock master Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”, “My Sister’s Keeper”) has gotten to emulating the experimental style associated with his father’s legacy. I’m still not 100% sure I liked “Yellow,” but it sure did give me a lot to think about, and to me, that makes it time well spent.

The script is co-written by Cassavetes and the film’s lead actress, Heather Wahlquist. Love it or hate it, you should make time for pie and coffee afterward, because you will need to discuss what you just witnessed. It begins, as do many dramas, in a therapist’s office. Protagonist Mary Holmes confesses that she is numb to the world. Worse yet, she has absolutely no desire to repair her affliction.

“I don’t even care that I can’t feel anything. I can’t even feel that.”

And with that, we join her story. Or, what little story there is. Mary is a substitute teacher at an elementary school who keeps her demons at bay with 30 painkillers a day and a steady stream of alcohol to wash it down. You can’t call her self-destructive because that would imply that she’s still making some sort of effort. The only thing she feels responsible for is stuffing her mouth with pharmaceuticals. The rest of her life just happens to her. It would be a pretty boring film if we weren’t granted an all-access pass to her thought process, which frequently involves hallucinations in the form of musical numbers and animation.

Some of the hallucinations play as emotional shorthand, but it seems more a coincidence than it is laziness. Mary is no Rhodes scholar, so it makes sense that her inner monologue would be a little transparent. What isn’t transparent, at least not immediately, is what exactly happened to this woman to make her this way. Her affliction is clearly much more than a chemical addiction. She has some serious pain that she is trying to suppress and apparently, at this point, it takes an awful lot of little yellow friends to make that happen.

After Mary is busted making sexy time with a dad in a utility closet during Parent’s Night, she decides it’s time to skip town and start over. But then she makes the worst mistake that anyone could ever make when seeking a fresh start – she goes home to her family. It soon becomes clear that Mary is actually the most normal member of a large clan of batshit Oklahomans.

As the puzzle pieces of Mary’s past fall into place, it becomes clear that there can be no redemption for her. Mary isn’t playing the victim. She doesn’t want anyone to try to help her and she doesn’t want sympathy. She’s resigned herself to her (almost literally) waking nightmare of a life. Parts of it are kind of fun but most of it is horrifying and inescapable. Even if were an option, she would never want out. She’s decided that her life is forfeit and she’s just biding her time until it’s over. Why not use that time to trip balls?

“Yellow” isn’t exactly a pioneering film. But Cassavetes borrows from some of the greats, including Michel Gondry, David Lynch and even a bit of Fosse. There’s also a hint of Holden Caulfield in Mary, who loves children and disdains adults in equal measure, but is nowhere near stable enough to be responsible for another life. The fucked-up sexpot is something I would like to see less of in film, but at least “Yellow” makes attempts at rounding out the character and giving her more motivation than merely arrested development and low self-esteem. I also commend Cassavetes and Wahlquist for omitting a love interest plotline. That’s a hell of a lot of restraint from the guy who made one of the most abysmal (yet, bafflingly, most beloved) romance films of all time.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

SIFF Review: Kink

2013 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
80 minutes

***

Every October in Seattle, our free weekly newspaper, The Stranger, puts on an amateur porn film festival called Hump! (their exclamation point). It’s not nearly as gross as it sounds. Well, it was at first. But over the years, the prizes you could win got bigger and better and the production value on the entries shot way up. Nowadays, many of the Hump! entries are legitimately beautiful, funny and/or visually impressive films. But since there’s a “Best Kink” category, there are also always a couple of major wince-inducers. The Stranger mercifully limits entries to 10 minutes, which can sometimes feel extremely generous to the filmmakers.

James Franco presents a feature length version of a Hump! contestant, very appropriately called, “Kink.” And if you think 10 minutes of unimaginable sexual torture sounds intense, try 80 minutes. I like to think of myself as pretty open-minded, but much of this film is difficult to stomach. I feel compelled to warn you that if you aren’t all that familiar with what BDSM (that stands for bondage, discipline, dominance and submission) entails, you might want to choose a different movie. Unless, of course, you’re into that. And clearly, many people are.

Christina Voros’ directs this documentary about kink.com, the largest producer of BDSM videos in the United States. The interviews with the directors and performers cast a very sex-positive light on the behind-the-scenes moments in “Kink.” Kink.com has got everything you could possibly want in a sex dungeon, including myriad equipment to restrain, hit or fuck you with. Some of these devices require enough horsepower to show up a regular horse. What’s more, they seem real nice and I’m so glad that they are providing what seems like a very conscientious and even intellectual approach to something that could easily get out of hand.

Now that I can’t unsee “Kink,” I am left to ponder the implications. Again, I’m fine with whatever happens between consenting adults, but it seems like a lot of work to have an orgasm. The most surprising thing that “Kink” presents is that it’s not always about getting off. Some find it meditative. Others enjoy challenging themselves physically and emotionally. One guy compares it to a runner’s high. No one here is a victim. Everyone is having a terrific time. And they have rules and regulations in place to make sure that doesn’t change. No one ever dishes out what they couldn’t take themselves. There are always safe words in place and the submissives are upfront about their limits and preferences. None of the videos ever imply rape or force. The submissive is actually the one in charge.

I was pleased to learn that some of it is even faked to a degree. Apparently, there’s a “right” way to step on a dick. The performers are all familiar with how to throw a stage punch. But most of it is the real deal because the key to a good video is “real responses on camera.”

I can’t tell you whether or not you should see “Kink.” It wasn’t the most pleasant viewing experience. If you’re already immersed in BDSM culture, this will certainly be up your alley (she’s used to it!). If you’re new to the subject, you will certainly come away from it more educated. Still, we don’t always have to know everything…

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).