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"Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus"

Directed by Steven Shainberg.
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson.  Based partially on the biography of Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., and Ty Burrell.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  11/2/06


After seeing the total whack job "Secretary", I had to see director Steven Shainberg's next movie, which looked like a total whack job and has a whack job title--"Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus."  And, with a freebie downtown where the director himself would be in attendance, I HAD to check this puppy out.

So, apparently, Diane Arbus (played here by Nicole Kidman) was a big-time photographer; in this fictional tale about Arbus and what might be going on in that head of hers, we meet Arbus in 1958, as her husband, Allan (Ty Burrell), is busy being successful as a nationally-recognized photographer.  As Allan's faithful assistant in studio and loving wife & mother of two daughters outside of the studio, one would think that Diane (pronounced Dee-onne, for reasons that aren't made clear here) has a pretty sweet setup...but, she's not happy.  Maybe it's the fact that her husband doesn't seem to enjoy sex with his wife; maybe it's that she has no individual aspiration; maybe it's that she has an eye for a great picture but--despite a sassy camera given to her by her husband ten years prior--doesn't like to take pictures herself.

Or, maybe it's the distraction of living in the same building as a wolfman named Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.).  It's definitely one of those things, for sure.

The relationship that Diane forges with this wolfman is the main story arc in "Fur", and it is not only intriguing but surprisingly romantic given that the guy is covered in a fucking rug's worth of hair.  Shainberg, who was an ardent follower of Arbus's work but has pretty much created this portrait of her from scratch, does great work with a story that could have very easily derailed into a bad pseudo-comedy.  I'm still not sure how Shainberg kept the balance correctly--it's got to be a mix of strong lead performances from Kidman and Downey Jr. but it's also that the film is so dreamy and curious.  I mean, eventually, "Fur" turns into a circus freak dreamscape romance flick, and somehow, it's very watchable from start to cool finish.

Kidman is her normal reliable self here but I think the film gets its best work out of Downey, Jr.; as the director himself put it after the movie, it's his eyes that make his wolfman character fly.  He also got Downey, Jr. to play it toned down; as opposed to his insane character from last year's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", here, Downey is playing a very quiet--at times, so quiet you don't always catch his lines--freak of nature, someone who is thoughtful, a bit bold, but willing to sit back and listen and play it from the shadows.  It works to good effect here, not because he's playing against a loudmouth second fiddle but because the character is a nuanced creation who is so out-of-the-ordinary that you feel hooked to watching his every move.

Movies that feature romances at the expense of what seem like good, honest, faithful men are always tough for me, and while this didn't bring the film down on its own, I thought that the story's neglect of Arbus's family life from the halfway point on were detrimental to telling a tale of a woman so obsessed with her neighbor, from a dramatic story angle perspective.  That was the only major flaw to me in what was otherwise a great flick; when this comes out in a couple of weeks, be sure to check it out!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09