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With: Neve Campbell, Frederick Weller, Dominic Chianese, James Toback, Mike Tyson, Lori Singer, Barry Primus, Karen Allen, Ashley Shelton
Written by: James Toback
Directed by: James Toback
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 81
Date: 06/06/2004
IMDB

When Will I Be Loved (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Love and Money

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

No other filmmaker besides James Toback has such a perverted, cynical view of humankind. Even if his films are sometimes not entirely successful, they represent a fascinatingly skewed, sadistic vision of pleasure, money and power, usually at the expense of a moral center.

His best films eventually overcome this factor, finding a spot of human essence among the corruption, specifically Fingers (1978) and Two Girls and a Guy (1998). But even his completely bankrupt films like Black and White (2000), Harvard Man (2002) and the new When Will I Be Loved have a dark allure to them. At least we know that the artist is staying true to himself rather than making another slick widget for the studios to sell.

The real reason When Will I Be Loved works so well is the brilliant casting of Neve Campbell, who seems to have traveled on an opposite arc from Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon started in small, crafty independent movies which allowed her to stretch and test her own limits, then graduated to big, expensive, brain-dead films in which she does very little.

Campbell on the other hand went from a likable nice girl on TV and in the Scream films to terrific, little seen films like Panic, The Company and now this. At the same time, she has been carefully shedding her squeaky-clean image. In When Will I Be Loved it's gone.

She plays Vera, a wealthy daddy's girl who has just set up a luscious Manhattan apartment and now looks for ways to spend her time. During her day, she masturbates in the shower, interviews for a position with an African-American studies professor (played by Toback), has sex with a beautiful female friend, paints a little, has lunch with her parents, has sex with a 69 year-old man in exchange for $1 million, then sets up her boyfriend for the man's murder.

In one scene, Vera literally runs into Lori Singer, the beautiful blond New York cellist and movie star (Short Cuts). They begin chatting, but it quickly becomes clear that Vera is very subtly trying to pick up the famous beauty. When she fails, she looks only faintly put out, as if she had wandered into a bookshop and decided that there wasn't anything good to read.

Vera's boyfriend, Ford Welles (Frederick Weller), is a sleazy hustler, trying to make a few deals involving mail-order brides and sexy girls trying to break into music videos. He's involved with an Italian Count (Dominic Chianese, from "The Sopranos"), and has promised to set him up with Vera.

Toback begins the film cutting back and forth between Vera and Ford's concurrent days, cutting directly into two separate music tracks as well as the visuals, soothing classical for Vera, jarring hip-hop for Ford. Vera has an easygoing way about her. She may be bored, but she's sure of what she wants and knows she will get it eventually. Above all else, she's patient and crafty.

Ford (could his name be a deliberate tribute to John Ford and Orson Welles?) on the other hand, believes himself to be charming and effective, but as often as not, people see right through him. One minute he's having sex with three blond girls in Central Park, and in the next a rap star is blowing him off.

What could Toback be saying about Ford? He's sleazy and phony, but is that really why he gets his comeuppance? It's more likely that Toback's malevolence toward Ford comes from his ability to land a high-class girlfriend like Vera. The filmmaker could be jealous of his creation, especially when Toback's professor character is literally the only one who doesn't arouse Vera's sexual interest.

Like Two Girls and a Guy, When Will I Be Loved takes place mostly in Vera's apartment, where Toback is most at home. His camera loves to roam from side to side, in a semi-circle, as if to establish the three dimensions of his characters; we see them from several angles.

Many viewers will be turned off by this depraved look inside the darkest corners of one filmmaker's psyche, but I found it refreshing and quite daring. Through his exercise in navel-gazing, he's given a worthy role to an actress who deserves our notice.

DVD Details: I suspect that many more people will come to this amazing film via DVD than they did in the theater. Like Toback's one-set Two Girls and a Guy (1998), it plays just as well, if not better, on home video. It will make a great double-bill with Robert Altman's The Company, another underrated Neve Campbell film that features an extraordinary collaboration between this fascinating actress and a strong director. MGM/UA's DVD comes with a Toback commentary track, four "scene explorations" with Toback and Campbell, and the theatrical trailer. The DVD also features trailers for other MGM/UA releases: Code 46, Wicker Park, De-Lovely, Raging Bull, Confessions of an American Girl and Kiss the Bride.

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