When Will I Be Loved
August 4, 2005
James Toback is a filmmaker that polarizes critics and audiences alike. He has been called a brave and daring filmmaker willing to take chances and also a pretentious hack. His new film, When Will I Be Loved (2004), will not bring these two sides together any time soon. It is another one of his cinematic grenades that he lobs at audiences to see what their reaction is to it. This time around, Toback takes fresh-faced, girl-next-door, Neve Campbell on a harrowing emotional journey. Sure, she dipped her toe in the edgy waters of darkness with the trashy pulp film, Wild Things (1998). But with this film she dives right into the deep end.
Toback wastes no time in trying to shock the audience as we are immediately confronted with Campbell’s character, Vera, gratifying herself in the shower while her boyfriend, Ford (Weller), walks the streets of New York City making deals on his cell phone. He’s a hustler who wants to be a movie producer. Like the characters in Hurly Burly (1998), they talk a lot without actually saying all that much. Although, Ford is closer to Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Toback’s Two Girls and A Guy (1997). He too is able to talk his way out of any situation. There is a steady stream of words always coming out of his mouth.
The first third of the movie is a collection of scenes that don’t really tie together in a narrative sense but are intended to establish the three main characters: Vera, Ford and a rich, Italian Count (Chianese). Vera meets a professor (Toback) from Columbia about becoming his assistant while Ford is accosted on the street by a woman who claims that he owes her money. Both scenes have an improvisational feel that seems authentic as if we are merely observing a small part of colourful New York life.
When Will I Be Loved features a series of scenarios where two characters verbally spar with each other but ultimately what is the point beyond showing how adventurous these actors are? There seems to be no direction, just a series of acting exercises. Finally, a third of the way in, the film stumbles into a story as Ford sets up the Italian Count to have sex with Vera for money.
The dialogue seems quite smart at times as characters chase each other verbally, testing their defenses, putting on a façade only to be caught in the act and then revealing their true intentions. The characters speak stylized dialogue like a David Mamet play. All the scenes have a theatrical quality and one could easily see this movie translated to the stage. Like Robert Altman and Mike Leigh, Toback is more interested in human behaviour than conventional storytelling. Unlike them, he’s too obvious about it. It feels like we are watching an actor’s workshop and not a movie.
I guess Neve Campbell should be commended for her fearless performance. She plays Vera as a cold operator who takes on every sexual encounter as either an experiment or a transaction. She is a master manipulator but the film never gives us any insight as to why. Campbell is willing to expose herself physically but doesn’t let us in emotionally. We never get any indication as to what makes her character tick. What is Toback trying to say with this film and is he saying anything at all?
There is an audio commentary by James Toback. He only spent 12 days shooting the movie and eight months editing it (although, maybe he should have spent more time). He speaks pretentiously of his own “cinematic style.” Incredibly, the opening argument in Times Square was filmed guerilla style with no permits and all improvised with real people walking in out of the scene. Toback tends to drone on in a monotone conducive to lulling one into a coma.
“Scene Sexplorations” features a conversation between Toback and Neve Campbell. They talk about the four sex scenes she does in the film. Not surprisingly, Campbell was nervous at first but jumped in and did them. She speaks candidly and eloquently about these scenes and how integral they are to the film.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.