The modern battle of the sexes is orchestrated for maximum enjoyment albeit unresolved.
Some Velvet Morning
Director: Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men)
Cast: Alice Eve (Star Trek into Darkness), Stanley Tucci (Hunger Games)
Runtime: 82 min.
by John DeSando
“Some velvet mornin' when I'm straight
I'm gonna open up your gate
And maybe tell you 'bout Phaedra
And how she gave me life
And how she made it end.” Lee Hazlewood.
Writer/director Neil LaBute acknowledges Swedish playwright August Strindberg after the credits of Some Velvet Morning. And well he should, for his short Some Velvet Morning has naturalism with touches of Ibsen in an entertaining two hander that barely covers the violent potential of its male, Fred (Stanley Tucci) and female (Alice Eve). The film is contemporary-dialogue driven, and that works swell for me, a word guy.
Lee Hazelwood’s lyrics, above, sung by Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra in the ‘70’s, suggest that the mythical Phaedra, whom Hippolytus spurned, holds questions to be unanswered about the ballet between the sexes. LaBute’s modern romance, albeit she is a prostitute, suggests few answers for lovers are yet to be found even over thousands of years.
As in Strindberg’s Miss Julia, the sexual play is masked by a restraint that is in check only part way through the film. Fred returns to Velvet after four years expecting her to drop everything for him. The dialogue dance grows intense as it’s clear she does not want to resume the relationship. She repeats, "You need to leave, before I get..." as he demands she finish the thought. Hers is largely a reactive role that harks back to times when women were barely heard or seen.
Although the intense sexual battle in the film might lead to violence, as it did in the Phaedra legend, restraint holds sway, just as you might expect from attorney Fred and classy call girl Velvet. The verbal violence does not have the high class intonations of, say, Tracey Letts’ August: Osage County or the middle class rudeness of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; it does deftly display the hidden horror of relationships gone bad. LaBute lets his actors suggest the bad blood between former lovers and by extension the dangers of any male-female contests.
I hope the film’s success does not rest on the surprise ending, which may trivialize an eternal contest between males and females. The hooker-with-a heart of gold motif doesn’t apply. This Adam and Eve are in charge of their fates, and it’s not pretty.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com