Take a Drink: for concerning character tics
Take a Drink: for cutting barbs
Take a Drink: for scenes with either boyfriend
Take a Drink: when the creepy smiles start
Take a Drink: whenever you see the painting
Do a Shot: when the volume spikes
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
The track record of famously austere filmmakers retreating to stylization is enough to make you wonder if the Dogme 95 and Mumblecore crowds were more making excuses for their lack of polish than justifying it.
Don’t think young Lars Von Trier would recognize this…
Mumblecore darling Alex Ross Perry has certainly making a bold move towards that stylization in his last couple of flicks. Queen of Earth continues the 70s vibes of last year’s breakout Listen Up Philip, with a very Persona plot centering on two childhood friends (Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston) spending time in a cabin while the former’s psyche frays following a bad breakup and the recent death of her overbearing father. Their friendship soon starts to show cracks as well.
Queen of Earth often feels like the best scene of Listen Up Philip- a long take focused solely on Moss’s face as Jason Schwartzman’s self-absorbed protagonist breaks up with her- spun out to feature length. In fact, this film opens up with a similar scene, as Moss’s mascara-streaked face dominates the screen as she processes and rages at another breakup. It’s an intense, unsettling beginning, and Perry clearly knows what kind of talent he has in her, because he often returns to unbroken scenes of the camera, and us, studying Moss as she spins ever farther out of control.
She ain’t okay.
Moss is spectacular, but Waterston matches her step for step, playing an ostensibly more put together character who starts to display a mean streak towards her friend, possibly stemming from a visit to the same cabin the year before when she may have been dealing with her own breakup. The film reveals her resentments towards Moss gradually, through cleverly juxtaposing these two trips as well Perry’s typically excellent, deep-digging, very natural dialogue. Perry also further develops his throwback style, shooting in grainy 16mm and extreme closeups, accomplishing the opposite of another recent stand-out closeup-heavy film, The Gift, by making you not afraid of what lurks outside the frame but rather afraid of whether Moss might snap and do something horrible to the characters Perry situates just offscreen. The result comes off as a cross between John Cassavetes and Nicolas Roeg, with all of the disturbing intensity that implies.
This could be a function of the screener I reviewed, but certain scenes hint it’s instead a creative choice- anyway, the sound mix was godawful, making me scurry for the remote more than once. I’m sure in a theater it will really smack you upside the head, but somebody should have had the good sense to remix the sound slightly for home viewing.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a film like this leaves you hanging with an open-ended finale, but that’s exactly the problem. Not only does it feel like a bit of a cop-out, but it also felt unnecessary for the story- unsatisfying without any real rationale for being so. Sometimes withholding is just withholding.
Queen of Earth is a blistering psychodrama boasting some top of the line acting from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston.