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With: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell, Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander, Emmy Clarke, Genevieve McCarthy
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson, based on a book by Patricia Bosworth
Directed by: Steven Shainberg
MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 120
Date: 09/01/2006
IMDB

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Fur' Crazy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of all the "what-were-they-thinking" movies of 2006 -- and there are quite a few -- Steven Shainberg's Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus rises to the top of the list. At some point someone must have decided that combining a biopic of a famous photographer with a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast would be a good idea, but I would like to have been there for that meeting.

Probably the oddest decision of all was to take photography out of the equation entirely. Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is rarely, if ever, seen taking one of her morbidly, famous pictures, or even looking through a lens. Instead, we meet her, working as a lowly assistant in her husband's family photography studio. Her taste for the bizarre manifests itself in weird ways, such as strip-teasing on the balcony. She notices a new neighbor moving in upstairs, one with equally odd tastes in furniture and knick-knacks, and, after retrieving a wad of hair and a key from her bathroom drainpipe, ventures up to ostensibly photograph him. The new neighbor turns out to be Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.), a reclusive, eccentric wigmaker who happens to be covered in hair. Diane continues to visit, eventually striking up an odd love affair and freeing her inner self at the same time.

Shainburg has proved an eccentric filmmaker himself with the peculiar Jim Thompson adaptation Hit Me (1996) -- scripted by Denis Johnson -- and the universally acclaimed Secretary (2002), from a story by Mary Gaitskill. I did not much care for the latter, mainly because of its queasy tone shifts and elusive point. I suspect many responded to its shock factor, as well as the movie norms it managed to avoid. Fur re-asserts many of those same qualities. Neither Kidman nor Shainberg can properly pinpoint the force that makes Diane keep returning to her mysterious companion, and that lack of magnetism drains the center from the film. Likewise, the film cannot establish a connection between Diane and her husband, played by poor, lost Ty Burrell. Diane never really seems connected to anyone, so her drifting toward or away from anyone doesn't mean much. Kidman and Downey are riveting as usual, but Fur is a lost cause.

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