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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 03.16.09] movie review drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Zach Clark
Writers: Zach Clark
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 6.3 out of 10

[Editor's Note: Modern Love is Automatic just had it's premiere at SXSW]

"Beyond Apathy" is the tagline of Modern Love is Automatic and, while I've choked down the desire to exploit it for use in some pithy headline (like everyone on the planet recently did for their reviews of Watchmen) the idea of apathy in filmmaking should be examined here because it both helps and hurts this film.

Look at the poster to the right. It doesn't exactly scream "apathy" does it? In fact it projects quite the opposite. It's coloring is loud neon, it's lettering is all caps and bolded as if to scream at you from the page. Hardly what you would expect from a film about modern dislocation. But this poster, like the character in Bettie Page attire on it, is playing out a role. It's desperately grasping for some sort of relevance in any way it can, be it attention, identity, feeling, power, but when the lights go out at night it's just another poster on a wall filled with many.

That's what the film is about but, luckily, the film itself, while flawed, is unlike any other.

Apathy is something that has plagued many great cinematic characters - Ben from The Graduate's post collegiate woes are universal while Edward Norton's quest for meaning outside of consumerist sameness in Fight Club rank among some of the most popular - but the world of cinema has never seen a character quite as apathetic as Lorraine from MLIA. A nurse who moonlights as a dominatrix, Alaina walks through the film in a constant haze engaging with nothing. It's interesting to watch actress Melodie Sisk play the character because it's almost as if she's thinking about something else the whole time, like what to make for dinner or something. This is probably way more complicated to pull off than it sounds so props, but after about 25 minutes of this I became a little dislocated from the film myself, not because it was boring mind you, but because it became so difficult to relate to the main character (unless, in becoming so dislocated I was relating of course).

I was looking forward to giving MLIA further props for being a challenging slice of taboo filmmaking (as the movie's trailer was promising) but unfortunately it didn't push my buttons as much as I was expecting. It certainly wasn't the modern psycho-sexual drama I was expecting, nor did it even delve into the dark realities of the sex trade underworld. It's wants to be much more of a modern sexual fantasy, or dark comedy in the vein of early John Waters but doesn't pull off many laughs or gross-out moments. It certainly doesn't hold a candle to other films we've seen this year like Strange Girls.

Modern Love is Automatic is ultimately an attempt to tell a story about modern ennui and the lengths that people will go to feel something authentic in the face of feeling completely dislocated from the world around them. Looking to feel through sexual gratification and searching for an identity through role playing is an interesting theme, but the film falls short of being truly engaging or thought provoking through the simple fact that it took the apathy to a place seldom seen in film and focused on a character that was hard to relate to and difficult to like.

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