The saying goes that everyone has at least one story worth telling. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Some stories–and some people’s lives, for that matter–are not worth unleashing on the rest of us; their twisted, narrow ideas of the world should only be left to serve their own myopia. Take Hunter Richards (ugh…that name) whose directorial debut, “London,” really wants to say “something,” and it tries, often and loudly: it’s a spittling, frothing, wallowing exercise in idiotic self-congratulatory pity screaming at the top of its lungs like a terrible toddler who wants his mommy’s attention in a crowd. More than often, the brat just wants a lollipop.
So what’s at stake here? The agonized soul of an affluent, buff, white, hetero male Manhattanite. Yup… it’s another treatise on tortured masculinity. The damaged goods in question are in the person of Chris Evans‘s Syd, a whiny, rich 21-year-old who goes into a tailspin of drug addiction, depression, and rage after his girlfriend, Jessica Biel‘s London (she’s more than a girl…she’s a place) leaves him. And rightfully she should have: in flashback we see that she had been psychologically ravaged by Syd, whose idea of relationship maintenance seems to be constant haranguing, jealous explosions, and forceful self-aggrandizing pseudo-philosophical spoogings. What’s most shocking about “London” (and I don’t want to emphasize that word “shock” in case it compels anyone to actually see it) is that ultimately we’re supposed to “identify” with, or even somehow pity, the stunted man-child Syd, who repeatedly attacks the “love of his life” with barbed words, mocking her lack of spiritual insight, lambasting her for her rich-bitch designer spending habits, and flying into infantile screaming fits whenever she mentions another man’s name. Yet this being a film about the reclamation of Syd’s “soul” (natch), London just simply needs to be won back. It’s not merely misogynist: it’s a paean to misogyny.
All this is in backstory, though, given in big meaty chunks throughout the film’s more contained present narrative: as “London” opens, Syd discovers that London is being thrown a going-away bash at his friend’s luxurious NY apartment (an opulently trashy pad that looks like the Zieglers of “Eyes Wide Shut” purchased a ramshackle Soho branch) that he wasn’t invited to. Evans, snorting and hacking and guzzling from liquor bottles with the unconvincing elan of the world’s most committed student-film actor, gets trapped in mid-rage by a freeze-frame, smashes a fish tank with a basketball, and then decides to crash the bash. At a local bar on the way, he meets up with a coke-dealing British bloke, Bateman (awful awful awful British export and Guy Ritchie standby Jason Statham), who accompanies him to the shindig. Once there, they shack up in an upstairs bathroom so spacious it almost could fit the filmmaker’s ego and arm-flailingly shoot the shit…about life, love, and getting pooped on by dominatrixes. Meanwhile, London is downstairs, evidently waiting for her prince to emerge.
Spiritually empty and nihilistic, Richards’s characters seem to all possess one thing, and it’s distressingly similar to their filmmaker’s one noticeable trait: the ability to sound like a complete fucking moron no matter what they’re talking about. It’s the kind of script that transitions to a “deep” conversation with someone saying: “Wait, I forgot, did you say you believe in God or you don’t?” and allows for similes like “I’m sweating like a fucking rapist.” More than just actively annoying, Richards’s cranked-to-11 screenwriting also seems to think it’s saying something about its generation and particular social milieu: products of the Excessive Eighties (yawn), these lost kids, the poor dears, are the results of spoiled, pampered lives. Indeed in some cases, obnoxious kids spend too much of their parents’ money on coke and generous downtown lofts; but in other cases, they just use it to make shitty movies.
More than just negligible, “London” dredges up everything that’s been wrong with American movies of the past 10 years (and even finds a few new ones): uselessly flashy editing and overly artful cinematography, preening, perfectly built stars “slumming” it to get indie cred, pointless post-QT verbosity. The swaggering machismo of the two lead males’ conversation reaches its nadir when Statham’s Bateman reveals his impotence, a supposed plot twist that only serves to reinforce Syd’s dominance in the male cosmos. He then has the ability to confront London–for he may have dissipated from a rosy-cheeked innocent to a pale, stubbly addict (or, via the film’s adoring lighting, from strutting male model to elegantly ashen grungy rock star), but at least he’s got a cock! He snaps out of his drug-addled rage just in time to drive London to the airport for a nauseating Cameron Crowe-ish send-off, shot in a single take that Richards is probably very proud of pointing out to his beer buddies. (“Dude, I did this all in one shot!”) It’s tough not to get personal when writing about something like “London,” especially since it will be probably be seen by more people than will ever watch “Darwin’s Nightmare.” Richards’s film is the product of someone who was never encouraged to just stop. In defense of the medium that I love, at least I can do my part. The world is officially a little bit worse now that “London” is in it.
[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot, a contributor of Film Comment, and the managing editor at The Criterion Collection.]
Take 2 by Chris Wisniewski
More than one character in Hunter Richards’s relationship drama “London” compares the present day favorably to that of the Roman Empire–at least we no longer crucify Christians, they note. Fair enough. But any culture capable of producing so vile a piece of filmmaking, masquerading as entertainment, should pause before making its case too strongly. To continue the comparison to Rome, the act of watching “London,” unlike crucifixion, isn’t likely to result in physical death (it will merely kill a piece of your soul), but it does induce a feeling of suffocation, albeit a purely metaphoric one (despite the inconceivably large sets passing as Manhattan apartments).
It’s depressing to think that there might be people out there, somewhere in the ether, who could actually enjoy this film. Certainly, if you’re a woman–or someone who likes women–I would advise you to stay away, but I guess it’s possible that there’s a penis-obsessed, impotent, junkie misogynist who would get some sort of perverse pleasure out of watching self-involved assholes pace around a bathroom for 90 minutes debating the meaning of life and love without making a single statement bearing even the slightest trace of intelligence. Out of service to the rest of humanity, though, I refuse to dignify “London” with another moment of thought or consideration.
[Chris Wisniewski is a Reverse Shot staff writer, and has written for Interview and Publishers Weekly.]
Take 3 By Lauren Kaminsky
A miserable little transfer of dull dorm-room fantasies to the big screen, “London” has nothing to do with the city–or any city for that matter. Although nominally set in New York, its utterly provincial obsession with its own scandalousness would make more sense in the ‘burbs, where at least our eponymous heroine’s impending departure for L.A. would feel like an escape to greener pastures and possibilities.
The real, untapped love story in this film is between heartbroken, drug-abusing 21-year-old Syd and his impotent 40 year-old drug dealer, Bateman, both of whom appear to be wearing bad toupees. In the palatial bathroom at Syd’s ex-girlfriend London’s going-away party, Syd and Bateman spend what seems like an eternity snorting coke with assorted floozies (whose elaborately orchestrated crotch shots must have occupied the bulk of the director’s time) while discussing God, the meaning of life, and pain. The latter conversation leads to a shrill who-hurts-more confrontation between Syd and Bateman, in which Syd laments that London’s new lover has a 10.5 inch penis, and Bateman lashes out in a literally impotent rage. After the almost-dramatic moment in which Syd is exposed for being a little whiny baby who doesn’t know anything about pain, these two frothing fetishists should kiss and have passionate coked-out sex right there in the bathroom.
They don’t, of course, and any possibilities of improving on this shitty movie vanish with its homoerotic tension, which diffuses when they finally leave the bathroom to wrestle with tough guys and fuck women (in that order) to reaffirm their manliness. It’s hard to feel sorry for beautiful, wealthy losers with the world at their fingertips, and the result is self-indulgent tedium so unwatchable that it’s hard to believe that anyone involved at any stage of this film’s creation had an ounce of either talent or intelligence.
[Lauren Kaminsky is a Reverse Shot staff writer.]