I’m sorry but David Robert Mitchell‘s Under The Silver Lake (A24, 6.22), which I saw early this morning, is mostly a floundering, incoherent mess. Yeah, I know — Mitchell wanted it to feel this way, right? Ironically, I mean. Confusion and mental haziness were part of the impressionistic thrust.
It’s pretty much a textbook example of what happens when a gifted, financially successful director without much on his mind at the time…this is what happens when such a fellow comes to believe that he’s a version of Federico Fellini in the wake of La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2 and thereby obtains the funds to make whatever the hell he wants, and so he decides to create…uhm, well let’s try our hand at an impressionistic fantasia dreamtrip about L.A. hipster weirdness and…you know, dreamy fantasy women with nice breasts and impressionistic effluvia and whatever-the-fuck-else.
Two hours and 15 minutes of infuriating slacker nothingness…everyone’s vaguely confused, nobody really knows anything, all kinds of clues and hints about seemingly impenetrable conspiracies involving general L.A. space-case culture, bodies of dead dogs, cults, riddles and obsessions of the super-rich.
It’s basically about Andrew Garfield absolutely refusing to deal with paying his overdue rent, and neighbor Riley Keough, whom he tries to find throughout the film after she disappears early on, doing a late-career Marilyn Monroe with maybe a touch of Gloria Grahame in In A Lonely Place.
Under The Silver Lake is Mulholland Drive meets Fellini Satyricon meets Inherent Vice meets The Big Lebowski, except Lebowski, bleary-eyed stoner comedy that it was, was far more logical and witty and tied together, and with an actual through-line you could more or less follow.
I felt the same kind of where-the-fuck-is-this-movie-going?, wandering-fartscape confusion that I got from Paul Thomas Anderson‘s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel of the late ’60s.
During the press conference Mitchell described Silver Lake as a “fever dream.” He said he wrote it fairly quickly, and that it began with his talking about his wife about “what’s really going on in those swanky-looking houses up in the L.A. hills?”
What happened, I suspect, is that Mitchell had a fair amount of power and leverage after the success of It Follows, and he was given the freedom to make this free-associative catastrophe, and now it’s the new Southland Tales. I could be wrong but it feels to me like a complete bust, destined to become a cult curiosity and basically a non-hit among those whose speciality is adoring and championing films that don’t add up for everyone else.
Interesting cinematography by Mike Gioulakis and a generally approvable sense of visual unity and mood, but otherwise it just flails around, looking for footholds as it goes along.
I swear to God you can just tell that Mitchell had no real idea what he was doing when he made this thing.
I realized 15 minutes in that Under The Silver Lake wasn’t going to get its act together. I said to myself, “Oh shit…this movie has no discipline, it’s wandering for the sake of wandering, and who the hell makes a flick that partially focuses on some fiend killing dogs? Who the hell wants to watch a movie that’s partly about the mutilated carcasses of man’s best friend? And why the hell doesn’t Garfield at least try to raise the dough to pay his rent?
I’ll tell you why Garfield doesn’t worry about that. Because Mitchell, using Garfield as a kind of avatar, was flush and in-demand when he made it, and so petty, week-to-week money worries didn’t penetrate his consciousness. It’s too bad it doesn’t work, but Mitchell obviously had no interest in doing anything but following his imagination down a series of random rabbit holes.”
I could tell during the press conference that the numerous shots of gratuitous (but very pleasing) female nudity was rubbing “woke” critics the wrong way. “Why are there so many naked boobs and deep navels and smooth, sloping bellies and pear-shaped asses in this film?,” they were basicaly saying. “It’s exploitive to show that stuff now. It’s totally against the grain of #MeToo and #TimesUp.”
They were also basically asking him, “Why didn’t you foresee that #MeToo and #TimesUp would be a thing by the time that you finally unveiled your film, and that ass, boob and belly shots wouldn’t play all that well in this new political climate?
A friend saw a somewhat rough but close to finished cut of Silver Lake last November. Principal photography began on 10.31.16.
It’s a mess, it’s a mess, it’s a mess. And it goes on for nearly 135 minutes sans closing credits.
Random twitter reactions:
(a) “A mysterious cocktail of Pynchon and Lynch that’s weird, unsettling and seriously entertaining. A strange cult movie (in more than one way) that proves Mitchell is one of America’s strongest voices in cinema. Garfield is gooooood!”;
(b) “Appreciated Under The Silver Lake more for Mitchell’s expert control of mood and mise-en-scene than whatever the plot thinks it’s doing”;
(c) “The kind of film you wish to be great and entertaining. It‘s Mitchell‘s take on Mulholland Drive as a slacker-mystery, sometimes fun, sometimes downright boring”;
(d) “Extremely my shit, a movie made for Hollywood strivers who feel so close to cracking the code yet deep down, know their dreams will remain forever out of reach…it’s also a movie made for people who love Andrew Garfield’s butt”;
(e) “Hate to admit it but Under the Silver Lake is really a Southland Tales-level disaster, trying way too much and putting in just about everything and none of it really works. Whoops.”