On Saturday I dragged my poor friend Elaine from her enclave on the Upper West Side down to the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side for a late showing of I Am Love.
I was predisposed to love this movie as I practically worship at the altar of Tilda Swinton, but I promise you it was indeed wonderful even if you are not quite so obsessed with the otherworldly beauty of this extraordinary creature as I am.
Ms. Swinton plays a Russian who has married into a wealthy Milanese family, the dissolution of which the movie chronicles. But really, I have to admit that I paid more attention to the beautiful homes, scenery, clothes and people than I did to the story itself.
It all looked so rich that I wanted to dive right in.
The family home, an art deco specimen with a vaguely brutalist bent (perhaps due somehow to the fascist regime's influence?) contained a fascinating tension between lush but restrained modern decor (like that insanely gorgeous wood paneling in the photo above) and frivolous sparkle (chandeliers, heavy gilded curtains...like bits of the Pitti Palace strewn throughout).
I died all over again each time a shot of this front door came on the screen, but it was the steps which provided a setting for great drama towards the end.
This is not to say of course that the story was not engrossing in its own right...it certainly was, as were the characters themselves. There is always something terribly compelling about a behind the scenes look at the way a dysfunctional wealthy household works. But with visuals like this (I include Ms. Swinton in this category) the remaining components hardly stand a chance.
The New York Times reviewer of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work wondered, after having seen this movie, where the great dame had been all her life. I have no such lament. I have loved Joan Rivers for years. I enjoyed her as the center square on Hollywood Squares, I watched her daytime talk show religiously (I was a bit bored in middle school and took a slightly ridiculous number of sick days as a result...her show always made me "feel better") and in college my roommate and I would never miss her red carpet interviews. We adored her in the way that you might adore a dotty aunt with a filthy mouth.
So it made perfect sense for the two of us to head down to the west village for an early evening showing of her year in the life documentary. We came out of it loving her even more deeply than we had before, vowing to find tickets to one of the standup shows she seems to do periodically in New York.
We came away impressed by Joan's wisdom, her compassion, her wit, her humor and her work ethic. I would say she's fearless except she apparently does have one intense fear: no work! She's a workaholic in the extreme. As she says, "I work so I can live well. I could live carefully and not work, but that would be ridiculous." And she does live well. I believe she said that her apartment is where Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money, and she is not far off.
The movie is at times absurdly funny...we were certainly not the only ones howling out loud at ten minute intervals. But at the same time, Joan lays bare her wounds, her insecurities, her hurts and her regrets. And it all rings true, perhaps because the movie doesn't seem to have an angle. It is not critical, it is not fawning. It is just a year in an incomparable character's life.