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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus Review

By Shawn McKenzie 12/07/2006

The Synopsis:

Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is the bored wife of New York commercial photographer Allan Arbus (Ty Burrell.)  As the movie opens, we see Diane taking pictures of the residents of a nudist colony run by Jack and Tippa Henry (Boris McGiver and Marceline Hugot.)  We then see Diane flash back to 1958, where she is the assistant of Allan and in charge of wrangling the models for a fashion show of furs sold in her father David Nemerov (Harris Yulin) and mother Gertrude Nemerov’s (Jane Alexander) Fifth Avenue department store, Russek’s.  Diane also raises her and Allan’s two daughters, Grace (Emmy Clarke) and Sophie (Genevieve McCarthy.)  Allan gives Diane a Rolleiflex camera and encourages her to take some pictures of her own.  She doesn’t know what to shoot until she meets her muse…her mysterious new upstairs neighbor.  Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey, Jr.) is always wrapped up in a scarf (like the Invisible Man.)  One day, Diane fishes out a bunch of hair out of a pipe that the Arbus’s share with Lionel.  She assumes that Lionel has a dog, so she goes up to confront him, and discovers his secret…he is covered head to toe in hair.  The condition is called hypertrichosis, and it is so severe that it is affecting his lungs.  After meeting Lionel a few times, she develops an intense attraction to him, and after shooting pictures of him and his freak friends, she discovers her new purpose…taking pictures of the physically abnormal.

The Review:

How can a movie starring the normally good Nicole Kidman and the usually interesting Robert Downey, Jr. be all that bad?  Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus proves that it is indeed possible.

If you are an uncultured yokel like me, then you have never heard of Diane (pronounced “Dee-ann”) Arbus.  She was a celebrated photograph artist in the ‘60s who ultimately committed suicide in 1971.  She specialized in taking pictures of “freaks”… transvestites, dwarves, giants, prostitutes, etc.  Unless you are into avante garde photographic art, then the most familiar photo of hers that you may recognize is 1967’s Identical Twins…a photo that inspired a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie The Shining.

Unfortunately, director Steven Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (using a biography written by Patricia Bosworth) decided to create a fictional story of Arbus using her basic history as an outline.  Director Tony Scott did this same thing last year with his movie Domino (about model-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey.)  Domino was creative and exciting though; Fur is weird and boring.  I appreciated that they gave the heads up to the audience that “it is not a historical biography” and that it “is a tribute to Diane,” but that didn’t make me like it any better.  I think that a real biopic would have been more entertaining to watch.

The only buzz that I heard about the movie before I saw it was that Kidman was going to get naked in it.  That peaked my interest…but then I remembered that the last time I saw her naked in a movie was Kubrick’s extremely disappointing 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut, which took him three years to make and ended her marriage with her then husband Tom Cruise.  It’s sad that it was his last movie before he died.  At least that movie contained a decent amount of nudity; this one barely has any of her…and it is only until the ending that you get to see it (after suffering the boring stuff before it.)

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus has some decent acting from Kidman and Downey, Jr., but I have seen better movies from both.  Also, Shainberg and Wilson’s previous collaboration, 2002’s Secretary, was better than this movie as well.  While I thought that movie was just okay, it did introduce me to the talents of Maggie Gyllenhaal and re-introduced me to the talents of James Spader.  I’m not a big fan of S&M (or the portrayals of it), but it was more interesting to watch than Kidman getting it on with a Wookiee.


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