Monday, 6 February 2012

19 years on, is it time to reassess Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena?

Boxing Helena… No… No… No…

If there was ever an example of nepotism in the cinema world, this is it. David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer made this turd back in the early 90s, without a doubt only getting the chance because of daddy’s clout. I have heard good reports from her later work, but Jennifer, about 23 at the time if I’m not mistaken, was given the reigns of what turned out to be one of the most truly awful films I have ever watched.

The story centres around the hammy Julian Sands playing a surgeon obsessed with his ex, Sherilyn Fenn, of Twin Peaks fame. While picking up a bag from his mansion, she ends up getting hit by a car. Instead of bringing her to the hospital, Sands amputates her legs and keeps her in his house, under the guise of looking after her, but really just finding a way to keep her. Trying to hide her from the outside world, including a doctor who turns the other cheek so he can take Sands’ job, Fenn gets more and more agitated with Sands as her dominance over him, even in her legless state, becomes more and more apparent. Eventually, he decides to amputate her arms, in the vein of the Venus statue, leaving her to totally rely on him for survival.

Oh no... Foreshadowing...

There is a bit of a back and forth power play where Sands potentially gains the confidence he needed to overcome her, and there is a bit of possible Stockholm syndrome going on too, but I’ll be honest, the 138 words I have given to the plot are more than enough. The basics: Man obsessed with woman. Man cuts off woman’s arms and legs. Woman still doesn’t care for man.

The film this picture makes you imagine is infinitely
better than the reality.

It’s a simple but intriguing plot, not unlike exploitation like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, except it is really, really poorly done (even by grindhouse standards). There are some great actors peppered throughout the film, but every single one phones it in with the god-awful dialogue forced into their mouths. Nothing feels naturalistic or unforced, and not in that good way that Papa Lynch is known for. It’s the perfect example of how not to deliver exposition or emotion in a script.

I hate Fenn’s character every moment she is on screen, and frankly, she deserves what she got because she decided it would be easier to demand her stalker to bring her bag to the airport, instead of popping by his place herself. And guess what? He doesn’t even bring it to the airport, so they go to his anyway. The film is full of extraneous scenes that seem to only be there to make up the running time. Several times do we watch people make phone calls we don’t need to see, or walk somewhere we don’t need to know about. Motivations are off, realism is redundant, everyone is a pain in the ass. And worst of all, every single goddamn moment is BORING. Really fucking boring.

Oh no... 'Tension'...

The script reads like a student’s first writing exercise, the way it looks is barely made-for-TV, even though it had plenty of money behind it, every cast member gets every line wrong (even Bill Paxton. How can Hudson be so rubbish?), and the film can’t decide who you should actually be routing for. Frankly, you should be routing for your DVD player to break down so you don’t have to watch more of this tripe.

Madonna was attached to the film at one point, as was Kim Basinger. Both had the sense to pull out. Honestly, how do you get a film about an obsessive ex-boyfriend amputating a beautiful woman wrong? The film tries to be art house, and fails. It tries to be dramatic, and fails. It tries to be shocking, and fails. People labelled it misogynistic, and I’d be tempted to agree, except that really, the men get just as short an end of the stick as the women, with how stupid and one dimensional they MUST be.

Ugh… I hated this film.

A final sidenote: while researching this piece, I noticed there were no critical reviews on the poster, but a logline of 'the most talked about film of the year'. Well, it was talked about because it drove Kim Basinger to bankruptcy, and there are no reviews because it's an awful film. Got to give it to them though, they were clever with how they said 'Everyone knows how bad this is'.

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