Friday, July 13, 2012

NAKED AMBITION IN HOLLYWOOD


What do Sigourney Weaver, Hilary Swank, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Demi Moore and Rooney Mara all have in common? They’re all A-list actresses who have appeared completely nude in film. A-list actors such as Richard Gere, Jason Segal, Jude Law, and Kevin Bacon have done so as well. And Michael Fassbender really went above and beyond the commitment to the craft with his stellar performance in the complex movie SHAME last year.
Michael Fassbender in SHAME (2011)

 So what’s the matter with Blake Lively and Channing Tatum?

Lively and Tatum star in two of this year’s big summer movies, SAVAGES and MAGIC MIKE, respectively, playing extremely sexual characters, and yet…they don’t do what those other A-listers were willing to do. Why? By remaining covered up they rob their roles of a certain authenticity, don’t they? 
Blake Lively as "O", the free spirit girlfriend, at the center of the drama in SAVAGES (2012)

Look, I’m not chomping at the bit to see either of them au naturel, but when the script calls for such things, and the actors resist, it seems fraudulent. At the very least, it takes you out of the story. There you are, watching the sex scene in SAVAGES, and Lively’s costars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson are showing plenty of skin and bare bottoms, and yet she hasn’t bothered to even remove her bra? What’s wrong with that picture?
Channing Tatum shows a lot, but not all, in MAGIC MIKE (2012)

It’s a little easier to understand Tatum’s position as an actor. He already exposes a lot of flesh in his role of Mike and it wasn’t absolutely necessary for him to show ‘the full Monty.’And rarely do name actors. But still, it seems a bit incongruous in a movie about a stripper. (Oh, and interestingly, all the guys in the 1997 movie THE FULL MONTY showed more than Tatum does in his stripper film.)

I don’t think there’s any real excuse for Lively however. Especially when you consider her costars' willingness, or that everything else in Oliver Stone’s movie is explicit, from the language to the cringe-inducing violence. Then there’s the fact that it seems Lively isn’t all that shy about nudity, as there are, allegedly, nude cell phone pics of her making the rounds online. 
Blake Lively is dressed, Aaron Johnson is not, in this scene from SAVAGES

Time was that if an actress refused to do a nude scene in a movie it was because it was deemed gratuitous and not advancing the story. But the whole plot of SAVAGES hinges on the audience caring about this incredibly intense and passionate open relationship that Lively’s character has with both men, and yet at every turn, she’s covered up. Whether that was her choice or Stone’s, the false modesty took me out of the story. Subsequently, that pulled punch made everything else feel fake as well.
Sasha Grey in THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (2009)

For some reason, the movie industry continues to be alarmingly immature or even sophomoric about how sexuality is portrayed onscreen. It shows plenty of nudity in comedies. God knows we've all seen Will Ferrell in the buff many, many times! But when it comes to a serious film about sexuality, more and more Hollywood doesn't seem to have the balls. And the topic of sexuality is rarely dealt with in as frank a way or with the candor of a groundbreaker like SHAME. 


One of the lamest examples of such material being utterly botched  was in the 2009 film THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. It was about a high-end call girl and director Steven Soderbergh cast a porn actress, Sasha Grey, in the lead. But rather than be a truly bold and thought-provoking dissertation on the sexuality of such a woman, Soderbergh allowed Grey to give a completely bland, asexual and amateurish performance that turned the film into a total yawn. It also didn't help that Grey remained clothed almost the entire film.
Morena Baccarin in HOMELAND on Showtime
And yet while movies wimp out, entertainment with themes of adult sexuality is thriving on TV. Anna Paquin and her costars show skin all the time on HBO’s biggest hit series TRUE BLOOD and it embraces its themes of sexual desire and obsession with a vengeance. Then there's HOMELAND on Showtime where sexual politics is at play throughout. In fact, Morena Baccarin's very first scene on the program had her performing in a tricky love scene with no room to hide. And the scene, and her sexual performance throughout the series, was extraordinary. So was Claire Dane's work on the show. She's a name actress who doesn't shy away from nudity either.  So why can't R-rated movies be as intelligent and brave about the topic of sexuality? And why isn't Blake Lively doing what premium cable stars are?
Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988)
Maybe it has to do with movies valuing adult audiences less and less. There's too much catering to the TWILIGHT crowd and it's stifling more sophisticated examinations of love and sexuality elsewhere. Too bad, because in the day, Hollywood did exceptional and complex films about human sexuality, and got name actors to commit entirely to the proceedings. Actors like Richard Gere in AMERICAN GIGOLO (1979); Kathleen Turner and William Hurt in BODY HEAT (1982); Isabella Rossellini in BLUE VELVET (1986); and Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin and Daniel Day-Lewis in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988). There are a few movies today here and there that continue that admirable history, like BLUE VALENTINE (2010) with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, but it is becoming all too rare. 


More and more, mainstream movies play sex for laughs or they Puritanically shy away from anything truly provocative. And so much of it has become silly. Even infuriating. Like Blake Lively's character "O" in SAVAGES making love in a bathtub, wearing a summer dress. And then she doesn't even remove it when the sex moves to the bedroom. It’s laughable.

It’s been said that 90% of a movie is casting. If you don’t believe the actor playing the part, you won’t believe the person in the story. That’s true. And in the case of two of the summer’s big movies, the leads don’t commit 100%. I’d love to know why. But more than that, I’d have loved to never had to ask the question.

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