Heavily stroked by a purple and red brush, this is a strange movie to write about and even stranger to watch. It’s different…and that’s the big word to truly describe what this film is. It’s neither terrible or outstanding, even though people have commented on it being a masterpiece or boo-worthy love/hate release, I shall disagree.
Aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA and soon meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). It doesn’t take long for naturally pretty Jesse to get signed and land modelling gigs leading more experienced models to grow jealous. As this ingenue increases in profile and confidence she sees how dangerous the world of modelling can be.
Now, I have to say that the above summary doesn’t even half cover the madness that occurs in this 2016 movie. There’s a Keanu Reeves plot which maybe best to forget, also for those that have seen this film, then you’ll know about the weirder side of proceedings once the run-time goes past the half way point or so.
Winding Refn definitely knows how to make an impact. This could be his largest stamp of ‘I’m here…notice me doing something unique’ yet. Because it goes without saying that this movie plays with an idea not really seen or dealt with in this way before. The trend of models, their lifestyle and the fanatic obsession of looks in Los Angeles is certainly put under a colourful microscope here and edged with a bite of something sinister.
I must commend Refn for being out there and going against the grain of, but then he does fall into that style over substance trap. The idea is very special but it feels like they run with that more than focusing on how to keep the story engaging. What stops it from being out and out amazing is the thin characters and thirst to go down a gross road. Jesse is clearly innocent and lost in the land of stars but apart from that and a few well placed smirks she feels like a hollow character to have as the main focus.
I won’t venture too much into that gross road comment but Jena Malone makes up nearly 100% of that statement. A table is the only thing I’ll write because it’s already stirring up images of a scene I wish to forget. Moving on from the sicker moments, there is a stylised attempt at horror with tinges of psychological threat striding the catwalk. The robotic personas of other models, the sexy vanity of identity and a trickle of fashionable comedy alongside the blistering soundtrack from Cliff Martinez and Julian Winding’s ‘Demon Dance’ boosts the electric surreal landscape.
Elle Fanning sure looks the part, her doe eyes like a rabbit in the headlights showcase the youthful side of Jesse. She has a glamorous ease with the role and does get a teeny go at playing snide and smirky as the movie goes on. Jena Malone is slightly sordid as Ruby and she’s got the strength to play that necessary elder controlling level and a scene with her out of the model light is a great reveal. Abbey Lee is tall and unflinching as model Sarah and pulls off a flawless lip twitch as Bella Heathcote flails Heathcote more than sells her character Gigi being a season ticket holder to the plastic surgeon, her upright posture and similarly still gaze gives the two models an almost funny twist. Desmond Harrington plays photographer Jack like a vulture praying on the sexuality of women, it’s a neat performance from him as his gaunt figure plays into the maturation of Jesse’s rise.
I can’t be harsh because even though it’s pacing is slow, the characters are nowhere near fleshed out, Refn seeks to shock for an apparent sake of it and it drives you to look on bemused, there’s still an undeniable streak of flair to this movie. There’s a boldness that I admire and the seductive look and sound keeps things intriguingly…different.