Savage Grace (2007), or Mother, Are You Trying To Seduce Me?

2 03 2009
Julianne Moore really has a creepy hot thing going on here...

Julianne Moore really has a creepy hot thing going on here...

Welcome, everyone, to another addition of my 365 movie project. In today’s feature, we examine the private lives of the extremely wealthy, something Americans do every single day of their lives anyway. Not to go too far of topic, but why are we as a people so enamored with the rich and powerful? Is it the vicarious sense of luxury’s gripping sensation? The assumed elegance the rich carry themselves with? Whatever the reason, America has always made a point to cater to the wealthy by doting on their every word and celebrating their accomplishments above those of the average man. And they do it not because they truly love these individuals, but because they want to be these individuals and live out a fantasy of extreme privilege. We are the “plain” girl who dresses like the popular kids in school; we all know why she does it, but we don’t talk about it because we are all a bit guilty of it. We really need to snap out of it. We simply have to realize, like the man watching a girl-on-girl love scene, that there is no place for us in their equation. Carry on with your own endeavors instead of opining some dim-witted celebutante, and perhaps you’ll see the good life yourself with enough hard work. End rant. Now, this movie IS a voyeuristic look into the life of the haves rather than the have-nots, but this isn’t exactly a look inspired by desire or financial lust. This is a look into the crazed heart of one extremely well-off woman and her family.

Barbara Baekeland is her name, a would-be Hollywood starlet who suffered from bouts of severe depression and what seemed to be a number of personality disorders. She married into the Bakelite Plastics fortune, a very sizable fortune indeed. Her husband, Brooks, was aloof already, but when they had a child it only became worse. Their son, Tony, grew up wanting for nothing save attention, which was sated at times by his mother, who might not have been the best person to grow up with, being unstable and all. The movie tracks the relationship of this family, from the initial cooling of the Baekelands marriage after the birth of the child, to Tony’s teenage years, where he and his mother started their codependent emotional relationship, to his adult years, where he and his mother’s relationship becomes a bit more… sexual. That’s right, I said it. Along the way, Barbara’s coarse, unstable behavior ruins every single emotional link to any person she might know or love. She becomes more erratic as her loneliness becomes more complete. Only her codependent son/lover stays with her, and when even that relationship crashes down in front of her, she refuses to see what she is doing to herself. Can Tony escape this complex emotional web that has been spun around him? Can Barbara stop herself before it is too late? Can there be a happy ending for these lost souls?

This movie is dark. Let’s push that out into the open. There is a lot of overwhelming sadness in these characters. They are rich and miserable, and and while I do not pity them there is a part of me that wants to put a hand out for these wastrels and fools and hope they grab on. And this is actually based on the TRUE STORY of the infamous real-life Baekelands. Believe it or not. Some details are surely sensationalized, but enough of it is true to make an impact.

The acting is very dry, I mean extremely dry. Masterpiece Theater dry. The portrayals are given a refined British touch, which is strange for an all-American production. It works, but only because its depiction is of the upper-crust and the way the haves do things, which is an alien to such a pleb like myself (they might as well have spoken Latin). Julianne Moore is very good as the cause of all this illness, Barbara. She is unapologetic and speaks as if she doesn’t care if everyone around her dies an agonizing death. It is disarming and almost hypnotic; I like her. Everyone else is pretty bland. The adult son, played by Eddie Redmayne, needs more experience in motion pictures and am not sure that he was ready for this. I would like to see him mature, but I do not think that this was his movie. Stephen Dillane plays the aloof husband Brooks, and much like his on-screen persona he is barely there. He has a good line or two (when he tells his friend his wife doesn’t realize that women find him attractive is a nice sleazy look into his character), but fairly unremarkable beyond that.

Director Tom Kalin works well with sensational material. His debut movie, Swoon, was in the same true-crime vein. He picks the most provocative shots and extrapolates from there. He is also very good with homosexual material, of which there is a small amount in this film, and of which he directs with competence and dignity. I would be interested in more of this man’s work, but it is apparently difficult to find in the U.S., which, unless you are one of my thousands of international readers, means we here in America are S.O.L.

A quick note about the story. If you are not comfortable with the dark nature of human beings and the ideas presented above, DO NOT WATCH THIS! It is very stark and very honest, and it is not willing to hand-hold. I trust we are all adults, but for any prudes who cannot handle distressing subject matter, I have made my warning.

So, on the whole, I would recommend this for a night of movies and discussion with a friend. It is well played by everyone involved, and the script only suffers from a mild case of melodrama. Check it out for Julianne Moore’s performance alone. It is something very unique she pulls off, and she should be doing more of this and less Next (argh!). I give Savage Grace 7 1/2 son/lovers out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where my second Night Out will be Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li!