By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Robert Pattinson’s moonlit, bare ass. There, I just sold a hundred tickets for Bel Ami, for which I feel I deserve a solid commission. I also likely gave you all of the information you’d want to make your decision to watch or not. Surprisingly, though, that really isn’t enough. For one, there’s plenty of female sexiness to be had.
Almost this much
But more importantly, this is an entirely different beast than smoldering, Twilight and Nick Sparks-level girlfriend porn. Bel Ami is based on an 1885 Guy de Maupassant novel, in which a working class former soldier of fortune finds out that the key to upward mobility is seducing the rich and powerful’s wives… all of the wives. Seriously, every wife he meets.
Critics gave this a bit of a drumming, but I don’t think it’s unfair to attribute a bit of it to Twilight hangover. We’ll get that out of the way first. Pattinson does damn fine job, actually. His character is morally bankrupt without being overtly evil, and Pattinson is able to imbue his unsupportable actions with both human motivations and a measure of relatability. He demonstrates a range he’s shown literally nowhere else, including Water for Elephants, which I rather liked. Finally, I can fathom what David Cronenberg was thinking when casting him in his latest, Cosmopolis. Wait, is that a fucking dinosaur in the trailer?
Dinorat? Goddam it, David Cronenberg
Okay back to Bel Ami. The rest of the acting is on par, particularly Uma Thurman’s ruthless yet vulnerable “woman behind the man,” and as you’d expect, the costumes and set design are suitably sumptuous. But what I really enjoyed about Bel Ami was the tack that it took. There really is only one sympathetic character, Christina Ricci’s, and Pattinson doesn’t have a traditional arc, except perhaps becoming more entrenched and eventually validated in his ways. I also was particularly intrigued by how the ex roles were flipped around and turned into a commentary on power in one brutal sex scene between Thurman and Pattinson. This film didn’t shy from doing things differently, and while that might be a cause for criticism in some circles, I honestly can’t see why.
Ricci actually does a pretty decent job serving as the one halfway redeemable character in the film, even if it seems like she accepts Pattinson’s philandering a bit too whole-heartedly towards the end. But seriously, woman, finish a meal! What is with this Ethiopian famine look that seems to be catching on with some of Hollywood’s most (formerly) voluptuous actresses? Ricci, Lindsay Lohan of course, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Connelly, Emilie de Ravin… just stop, please!
“Oh, uh, should I call 911 or something? Can you even do anything for flesh-eating disease?”
A few more nitpicks bring this down for me. The usually superb Kristin Scott Thomas plays her role curiously over the top towards the end. Also, child acting is often brutal, and would be forgivable in this instance if the little girl’s entire role wasn’t solely meant to give Pattinson’s character his nickname and the film its title. Just cut the scene entirely. Worst of all is the overblown and awful score, which seems to be trying to inject some comic whimsy into a film that has none. It suggests a thematic confusion that I didn’t sense elsewhere, and is another thing that could have been done away with entirely.
It’s not perfect, but it’s worth watching just to witness the wonder of Robert Pattinson actually acting. Also, it’ll scratch that costume drama itch, and there’s plenty of delicious back-stabbing and class warfare with a few more interesting themes to boot.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Robert Pattinson eyes a woman lustily, or vice-versa
Take a Drink: whenever social class is alluded to
Drink a Shot: for 19th century club dancing