Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Movie Review: State Like Sleep

State Like Sleep ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Meredith Danluck.
Written by: Meredith Danluck.
Starring: Katherine Waterston (Katherine), Michiel Huisman (Stefan Delvoe), Luke Evans (Emile), Michael Shannon (Edward), Mary Kay Place (Elaine), Bo Martyn (Frieda), Julie Khaner (Anneke).
Katherine Waterson is a fine actress, who since her breakthrough role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice in 2014, has delivered one fine performance after another in films and roles both large in small – in Steve Jobs’ as his suffering ex raising his daughter on her own, in Queen of Earth of one half of a destructive, enabling relationship – who isn’t as wholly innocent as she appears, and in Mid90s, as a struggling single mother. She even was pretty good in the not terribly good Fantastic Beasts movies, and in Alien: Covenant – which I liked more than most, although it must be said it was hard for her to compete with Michael Fassbender times two in that film. As an actress, she seems to excel in characters who are silent more often than not – she makes her characters thinking or processing things more interesting than most actresses. That helps her a lot in State Like Sleep – because her character is constantly thinking, constantly processing a lot – and never sure who, if anyone, she can share that with. Every relationship she has in the film is fraught – as she doesn’t know what she can, or should, say – how much to let the other characters in. It’s wonderful to watch her work.
The problem with State Like Sleep as a movie overall is that writer/director Meredith Danluck feels the need to overcomplicate the narrative – which really should have been fairly simple and straight forward. The plot revolves around Katherine (Waterson) – an American photographer, who returns to Brussels for the first time in the year since her Belgian movie star husband, Stefan (Michiel Huisman) committed suicide in their apartment as the couple’s relationship was falling apart. She has avoided doing anything with their apartment, their bank accounts, really anything – so it’s all fallen on Stefan’s controlling mother Anneke (Julie Khaner) to clean up – and she isn’t happy about it. She wouldn’t have returned to Brussels at all except her own mother (Mary Kay Place) has suffered what she calls a “mini stroke” there – and she has to stay in the hospital to recover. While in Brussels, Katherine keeps flashing back to the last days of her marriage to Stefan – the tabloid photos of him with another woman which were the last straw after his drug use drove them to the breaking point. She also has two very different relationships with two men she meets – Emile (Luke Evans) – a seedy nightclub owner from Stefan’s past, and Edward (Michael Shannon) a travelling American businessman staying on the same floor of the hotel she’s on, and who she starts leaning on a little bit, for sex, and other things.
The film is at its best when it’s least concerned with its plot. The biggest mistake Danluck has made in the film is to construct it all like a mystery to unravel – so that Katherine starts digging around in her husband’s life to find out why he killed himself. Even this could have worked perhaps, had Danluck not insisted on tying everything up in a neat little bow in the last 10 minutes – and ending that makes sense in that it ties up all the loose ends, but makes zero sense when you realize that Stefan must have not even tried to explain things to Katherine. Logically, it makes no sense.
It also doesn’t make much sense in terms of what the themes of the movie seem to be – which is that there is randomness in life that cannot be explained. We need stories, we see Stefan say in an interview in the movie, to make sense of life – because life is too random. The movie then becomes one of those stories used to make sense of life – because it only seems random, when in reality, it’s all planned out.
But when the film is just Katherine walking through her life, and trying to figure things out, it works best. The title – State Like Sleep – is given a few different meanings over the course the film – Stefan being dead is a State Like Sleep, Place’s coma is a State Like Sleep, and Katherine refusing to deal with what happened and sleepwalking through her life is another State Like Sleep. Really, the movie excels when it’s concentrating on that one – with Katherine trying to break herself out of the stupor she’s been in for the last year. Waterson is excellent in those scenes.
The supporting cast is, for the most part, wasted. Really only Michael Shannon is really good here – because everyone else is either a puzzle piece to eventually be placed in the movie, or is Mary Kay Place, who was a plot point to get Katherine to Brussels, and then put in a coma so you don’t have to deal with her anymore. It’s an interesting role for Shannon – who when introduced, seems like a creep – and by the end, he’s still kind of a creep, but also kind of not. I’m not sure what drew Shannon to the role – but he does some interesting things with it.
I’ll also say, for a feature debut, Meredith Danluck shows she is a better director than a writer. The film establishes is dark, melancholy tone from the start, and does an excellent job of kind of drifting in that tone – a kind of dream like tone. It’s fine direction – but it’s ultimately let down by a screenplay that just isn’t as interesting as what the director – and especially the lead actress – are doing.

No comments:

Post a Comment