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Possession Review

By Shawn McKenzie 08/15/2002

You don’t even know how hard it is for me to write this review. Why is that? It is because I am about to severely trash a film by one of my favorite directors.

That film is Possession, the new film by Neil LaBute. It is the story of British Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow) and American Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart), two academic students assigned to do research on two different 19th century poets. Maud is researching rumored lesbian poet Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), and Roland is researching the fictional poet laureate to Queen Victoria, Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam.) Their individual research leads to each other, because they discover that Ash and LaMotte had a secret love affair together. As they team up to investigate the affair together, they begin to fall in love with each other. We also see the story back in 1859 between Ash and LaMotte. Supposedly these two stories are paralleling each other, but I really didn’t see the parallel (or I just didn’t care enough.)

Possession is a perfect cure for people who might have a sleep disorder, because you will find yourself fighting to stay awake during the movie. It is extremely boring, which is a huge shocker, considering that it is a LaBute movie. If you are a fan of LaBute yourself, you know what I am talking about. He is the director of 1997’s In the Company of Men (which made my list of the top guy chick flicks of all time; see the list), 1998’s Your Friends & Neighbors (which stars Ben Stiller), and 2000’s Nurse Betty (which is the LaBute film most people have heard of; it snagged star Renee Zellweger a Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy.) LaBute’s movies have never been boring until Possession.

What makes LaBute’s movies so good until now? His first three movies were all mean-spirited, cruel, misogynistic masterpieces. I don’t advocate the actions in them, but in our politically correct world, it is an escape to see people being cruel to each other, even if you have no intention of doing so yourself (which is why I was into "The Weakest Link" for a while.) If nothing else, it made the movies more interesting to watch, despite your feelings for their actions. In Possession, there is a microscopic amount of that cynicism, but it is quickly resolved. In fact, if you blink, you might miss it. Believe me, your eyes will be closed much longer than a blink!

There is no rule that states that a filmmaker has to keep making the same type of movie over and over, but I am wondering what LaBute was thinking when he took on this project. I always get a little nervous when one of my favorite directors strays from their self-created formula. In most cases, I am pleasantly surprised and it heightens my respect for them. When director Robert Rodriguez took on Spy Kids after doing creative R-rated action and horror movies, I was concerned. The kiddie flick ended up being one of the most creative kiddie flicks I’ve ever seen. The same thing can said for David Lynch. After doing weird classics like 1986’s Blue Velvet and 1990’s Wild at Heart, he did the G-rated 1999 Disney movie The Straight Story. Even though it was G-rated and had the Disney label, it was by no means a kiddie flick, but a great little story about an old man’s journey to see his brother before the brother dies. On the flip side, director Rusty! Cundieff did what LaBute just did…disappoint me greatly. After making the hilarious mockumentary Fear of a Black Hat (1993), the intelligent urban horror movie Tales from the Hood (1995), and the very funny chick flick Sprung (1997), he went on to do the horrible 2000 TV movie "The New Adventures of Spin and Marty: Suspect Behavior."

When a movie is boring, that is bad enough, but when a talented director does it, it is disappointing. Every director has to have at least one black mark, and Possession is Neil LaBute’s black mark. I guess it is good that it is happening now instead of later in his career. Maybe he can make a creative, mean-spirited kiddie flick next!



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