Sep 1, 2015

Queen Of Earth

Elizabeth Moss is the only reason to see this derivative, dysfunctional movie by Alex Ross Perry. Queen of Earth is a witless imitation (the precious may prefer to call it "homage") of Bergman's Persona, but don't be fooled by the name-dropping. You wish.
Moss and the mystifyingly employed Katherine Waterston play Catherine and Virginia, two close friends who spend lots of time together although they hate each other, for reasons no one cares to explain.
Virginia's parents have a nice home somewhere in the woods in upstate New York where Virginia invites Catherine (Moss) to recover from her divorce and her father's death. There she has an epic nervous breakdown, being rather impossible and refusing to bathe and leave her room.
Virginia, who is unimpressed with the dissolution of Catherine's self, makes her a salad which ends up festering on her friend's bedstand for days, like the rotting rabbit in Polanski's Repulsion (the mother of female mental breakdown movies, and a much better use of your time).
If you are going to trot out references to the superior works of your cinematic heroes, you might as well give them a valiant twist. A wilted salad is a sad replacement for a decomposing rabbit, and two surly actresses do not Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson make. It's like watching someone imitate Woody Allen imitating Bergman, except Allen's mimetism is much more proficient.
Moss, however, gives it her all. She is scarily transparent, fearless and excellent. Except for one truly creepy moment, when we fear the chaos that Catherine's unhinged state of mind might unleash, the movie is both drab and pretentious. A retelling of Persona which includes a cipher of an ex-husband and a nasty metrosexual neighbor who has the hots for Virginia and hates Catherine turns into a faux-profound thing about Catherine being a failed artist and living in the shadow of her father's success. This feels as tired as it sounds.
At times, the two women remind one vaguely of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, without the fabulous diva hysteria.
Perry plays around with the timeframe of the story, going back and forth for no reason that I could discern other than a wish to impress. Everything is arty with a capital A, but beats me if this film is meant to be a psychological thriller or a drama, or a parody so dark, you can't find the laughs.
Queen of Earth is like a first-year film student's wet dream. It's only exciting to the film student in question. Ross Perry did much better with his far sharper Listen Up, Philip.

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