Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A million You Go Girl memes were born the day Peggy Olson strutted cigarette in mouth, dead plant in hand, out of that advertising office in Mad Men, and Elisabeth Moss has become the (thankfully somewhat uneasy) standard bearer of that sentiment ever since. "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" scrawled in a closet on The Handmaid's Tale, the grand dame rallying cry of every Pussy Hat Parade from here to Tacoma -- don't let those bastards get you down. We know Moss, whether weighed down by red robes or retro corporate pencil skirts, is gonna stick it to The Man. 

And frankly we're one hundred percent here for it. These are the fantasies of our #MeToo times, the Busby Berkley dance circle distractions from the Great Depressions of this unabashed trash-fire of a Trump Era. Moss is the plucky gal in the middle of the perfect storm of water maidens spinning and spitting in concentric shapes around her, rolling her wild eyes back into her skull and shrieking loud and shrieking long for every which one of us. She gives our madness a face.

Out this week in theaters Leigh Whannell's reenvisioning of The Invisible Man, a grand trash hoot of a good time at the movies, will maybe, when we look back on this period, turn out to be the biggest sparkling-est jewel in the crown of what I can only call the MeToo-sploitation genre. It's a little bit Sleeping With the Enemy, and a whole lot of Ingrid Bergman rummaging around in an attic hearing noises that aren't there in George Cukor's Gaslight, and all with a gaudy dollop of Nomi Malone's "revenge nails" in Showgirls painted on top. It's electric.

The film opens by dropping us right down in escape. Cecelia (Moss) is getting away from her abusive Frankenstein-tall monster of a husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, scarcely glimpsed in the flesh) by any means necessary. She drugs him and runs off in the middle of the night, albeit taking her too sweet time padding about his cliffside cement modernist nightmare home on her way out -- all the better for Whannell to start showing off the film's second best asset (after Moss herself of course), his medium-long shots. 

Whannell puts little Lizzy, who's never seemed tinier than she does in this film, inside of great big empty rooms time and again, forcing our eyes to travel up and down and side to side in each endless frame. And as the air grows thicker with tension -- literally, as we begin to suspect, ho ho, that there are things there in that space that we can't quite see -- every frame becomes a cause of tension in itself. Whannell forces us into the action, leans us forward in our theater seats, by showing us just a little too much empty space. Our frantic eyeballing of the frames feeds our own paranoia, and before we know it we're right in it with Cecelia -- all amped up with no outlet for our freak-out. Frazzled, party of two! Or... is it three?

Its not hard to plot out the plot through-lines of The Invisible Man from its start -- it's not interested in re-writing what passes for Popular Entertainment; it's a fairly standard thriller when you look back and actually map it all out. I do wish there'd been a character (her sister Alice, played by Harriet Dyer, would have been a fine choice) that had taken Cecelia's side, and believed her no matter how nuts it all sounded -- Aldis Hodge's cop-friend comes close but not quite, and in 2020 I think we've earned that character. 

But Moss is so genuine and empathetic, and her arc so thoroughly infuriating in exactly the right kick the seat in front of you and scream and throw your popcorn sort of way, that The Invisible Man feels like the movie that was always right there in front of us all this time but we never quite could see it until now. But now that we can, we can go see it again and again and get ourselves even just a good strong whiff of catharsis in a world primed to keep denying it, Weinstein verdict be damned, well, I can't unsee it now. It's standing right in front of me, and bless it for its fine shape.


Forever1267 said...

But how much flesh DO we see of Oliver?

Jason Adams said...

None, zip, nada, zilch

Forever1267 said...

Producers sometimes do NOT get their job!