Saturday, December 6, 2008

Here We Are at the House

So a few days ago, Marilyn -- whose influence on this blog is becoming absolute -- sent me a letter that said "Hey Bill, I'm too a-scared to watch Jennifer Chambers Lynch's film entitled Boxing Helena, probably because it has something to do with being made helpless. You know who should see it is you. Will you see it and write about it? You are handsome. Also, you are smart. Sincerely, Marilyn. PS - You are funny." Flattered by her compliments, I agreed to give Boxing Helena a look-see. I've always been more than keen on Miss Sherilyn Fenn anyway, and Jennifer C. Lynch is David Lynch's daughter, a fact which only increased my curiosity. Sweetening the pot still further was the fact that the film also featured dismemberment and boxing things up and Art Garfunkel. Yes, this was a movie that needed to be watched. Which I did. And this thing is awful.

Julian Sands, it cannot be stressed too highly, stars in Boxing Helena as Dr. Nick Cavanaugh. I dearly wish there was some way to give you some sense of his line readings, but then again maybe the limits of the English language are, in this case, a blessing. Sands is through-the-floor terrible in this film, and I was all set to tear him a new cornhole, because it's high time someone knocked Julian Sands off his pedestal, but then in one scene I noticed he was wearing a hearing aid. This was late in the film, and there had never been any indication that his character was hard of hearing. So I started thinking, "Is Julian Sands deaf? Is that why he's so bad? Am I discriminating against him? Maybe he's actually a really good actor, for a deaf person. But wait, Marlee Matlin's deaf, and she's pretty good. Was she born deaf? Because maybe that's the difference. Maybe Sands..." And so on. I finally decided to err on the side of caution, and I therefore now consider his performance a courageous triumph. I have to add a little toughness to the love, however, and point out that while Sands sure as hell gives Nick Furlong a run for his money, he's still going to have to put in some hard work if he wants to get to the level of Dakota Fanning.

Anyway. Nick Cavanaugh is a brilliant surgeon who, following the death of his mother, has recently inherited his sprawling family home. He has a long-time girlfriend named Anne (Betsy Clarke), but still obsesses over a woman named Helena, played by Sherilyn Fenn. Nick's best friend Lawrence (ART GARFUNKEL!!) gently reminds him that he only spent one night with Helena, and he might want to think about letting it go. You can never ignore the advice of Art Garfunkel and still expect a heavenly light to ever again shine on your soul, but ignore him Nick does, by inviting Helena to a party he suddenly decides to throw.

Helena, meanwhile, is gorgeous. I mean, look:

I'm fucking pretty as shit

But that soft, angelic exterior masks -- wouldn't you just fucking know it -- a cruel and manipulative mind. At the time of Nick's invitation, she's dating Ray (Bill Paxton), and as we meet these two wide-eyed and innocent creatures, they are engaged in the physical act of love, and Helena gets so mad about her phone ringing in the middle of their humping that she calls a halt to the whole procedure. This upsets Ray, as it would anyone, but he tries to gently coax his lover back into his arms by pointing at his wang with both hands and calling it "Daddy". Somehow, this doesn't work, and Helena continues to treat him badly (although, to be fair, Ray does tend to wear mesh shirts and leather pants, and say things like "It's a big night tonight at the club").

Anyhow, Helena, for some reason, accepts Nick's invitation, but the party goes very badly for Nick, ending as it does with Helena leaving with some twerp, and Nick calling Anne "Helena". Not only that, but Art Garfunkel also pretty much bails on Nick. "Fuck it," Art Garfunkel says, and you know what? I don't blame him.

Fortunately for Nick, Helena left her purse at his house, and she calls and asks him -- insluting him even as she asks for a favor! -- to bring it to her at the airport, where she will be catching a plane to Alcapulco. Nick does this, but the purse is absent her address book, so he takes her back to his house so they can both look for it. And this moment gave me my favorite line in the entire film. We get a shot of the car pulling up outside his house, and Nick says: "Well, here we are at the house, Helena. I'm so glad I was able to tell that story in such depth and detail." I swear to God, that line is actually spoken. We're never told what the story is that Nick is referring to, but I, for one, am glad that these two kids were able to have at least one pleasant conversation before the horror begins.

The horror begins when Helena, who really hates Nick and isn't shy about letting him now that, discovers that Nick purposely left her address book behind, and used it to lure her to his house. She is so upset by this that she storms from the house, and about halfway across Nick's front lawn, she turns to face him, while continuing to walk backwards. As people so often do when they're angry at someone who is standing in a doorway, Helena walks backwards for about twenty feet, right out into the middle of the street, where she's run down by a speeding truck. Nick does the only thing he can do, which is to carry her crippled body into his house and cut off her legs and stop going to work so he can make sure she doesn't escape.

Nick and Helena in happier times
This choice of action really makes Helena angry, and the next half hour or so of the film consists of her calling Nick names (she calls him pathetic, she says she didn't enjoy the sex they had together that one time, but, it should be noted, she never calls him a "Sting-looking, Malcolm McDowell-sounding motherfucker", which is just another one of this film's many missteps), while Nick says, "But I love you! I think you're beautiful! Wup, you just tried to choke me. Let's have those arms off." So he cuts her arms off, an action that actually draws Helena closer to this guy, because she's tired of feeling all, you know, icky, and wants to feel the touch of a man again. And considering that Dr. Nick is, ostensibly, a man, why not just go for it? So Helena goes from saying "You're a loser!" to "You're bad at sex!" to "I don't want to be alone!" to "Touch me!" -- this last phrase being spoken in slow motion -- in about twenty-five minutes. Further upsetting my expectations for this film was the fact that there wasn't a single box in the whole damn movie.

In 1993, Boxing Helena fever briefly swept the nation

That's just completely unbelievable, isn't it? There is simply no way anyone could possibly buy how this section of the story unfolds. But that's okay, because everything that happened after Helena got hit by the truck is (SPOILER) a dream Nick's having after falling asleep while waiting for Helena to get out of surgery. He didn't dismember her after all; he just wants to. And also everything you just saw meant precisely jack-shit. I get the feeling that Boxing Helena was hurried into theaters before Lynch could really go to the mat for her original ending, which featured a final title that read "The End...?", but sometimes artists lose the war, and the barbarians end up running the asylum as the Philistines watch Rome burn, or however it goes. But what we have, like Welles's truncated The Magnificent Ambersons, is still a marvelously engaging work of art, a film whose genius makes itself known in spite of those who might wish to hide it. Good night, and God bless.


Greg said...

I never, ever, ever, ever had a desire to see this and it's reaction was so abysmal that I felt I should actively avoid it. Having now read your review I'm glad I did.

And, no joke here, I swear upon my can of Boddington's in front of me right now, I thought he cut off her limbs and put her in a box. I did. I think everyone did. Having never spoken to anyone who had seen it, nor bothering to ever, ever read about it, this is the first I have learned that he, in fact, does not put her in a box.

Wow! That's like if in Driving Miss Daisy Morgan Freeman was the gardner and nowhere in the movie is a car ever seen. So you'd think, "Why'd they call it Driving Miss Daisy?"

Or if Saving Private Ryan was all about a mission to kill someone named Corporal Hanson.

And thank you, thank you, thank you for that spoiler! Absolutely freaking HILARIOUS!!! My GOD(!) this movie sounds terrible!

Ed Howard said...

I'll admit, I was always kind of curious about this movie. I hadn't seen it and had only read enough about it to figure out that 1) David Lynch's daughter directed it; and 2) everyone hated it. I figured it couldn't possibly be as bad as its reputation. Now I know for sure that it is. Thanks, you've done a public service here Bill. You watched it so we don't have to.

bill r. said...

Jonathan, I couldn't remember what the reaction to this film was, other than that I was pretty sure it was negative. Having now seen it, I'm very curious to know if any major critics liked it, because it is easily among the worst films I've ever seen.

And I guess using the word "boxing" in the title refers to the fact that Nick COULD have boxed up Helena if he'd wanted to, had the whole dismemberment thing not been a dream. Or perhaps "boxing" referred to the psychological "boxing" match going on between Nick and Helena. This film has many layers...fascinating.

Ed - it's every bit as bad as its reputation, while also being three or four times worse. It's actually pretty stunning that this thing got made, and light was shone through the film it was printed it on, thereby projecting it onto screens in real movie theaters for the viewing pleasure of paying customers. But that all happened, and we need to just accept it.

Honestly this movie is so bad that it's worth seeing. It's not like Fantastic Four or something. It's badness is at the level around which cults are formed, and I'm genuinely surprised a cult hasn't formed around this film yet.

Anonymous said...

This writeup is absolutely hilarious! Thank God for courageous bloggers like you, who go where no man has gone, etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

And, by the way: I was so out of it about this movie that I thought it was about pugilism.

bill r. said...

Thanks, Rick. This was kinda hard to write, and I wasn't sure about when I was done, so I appreciate the compliment.

Yeah, no boxes, or boxing up, whatsoever in this film. So maybe metaphorical pugilistic-type boxing is what Lynch meant. God, wouldn't that be great?

Marilyn said...

Why is everyone thanking, Bill? It's because of ME that you have receiving this dire warning. I'd make Marilyn Monday me if I weren't too modest.

Since I can't pick the judgment-challenged Ms. Fenn, I'll go with someone else who made a rotten picture directed by the child of a known director: Lucy Liu, who was in Mario van Peebles' reportedly dreadful Love Kills.

PS - And Bill, you ARE funny.

bill r. said...

Thank you, Marilyn. And Lucy Liu it shall be (another easy one)! But what in the world is Love Kills? Are you telling me that, in the same way I followed up Fenn's appearance on "Marilyn Monday" by watching Boxing Helena, I'm going to have to rent Love Kills, too?

Marilyn said...

Most definitely not. You've fallen on your sword for the cause of cinephilia long enough.

Krauthammer said...

Wow! You really made this sound like a masterpiece. I'll rent it right away.

That was your point, wasn't it?