Savage Grace Tom Kalin

Savage Grace Tom Kalin
When Tom Kalin made Swoon a decade-and-a-half ago, he looked poised to become one of the Queer New Wave’s brightest lights, until he chose to return to avant-garde obscurity. His sudden reappearance on the big screen is a less happy occasion — so unhappy that the promise of his first feature seems hopelessly betrayed.

The film is based on the true story of the ultra-rich Baekland family, in particular controlling, manipulative mother Barbara (Julianne Moore) and her unhealthy-to-say-the-least interest in her gay son Tony (Eddie Redmayne). But that interest is really all the movie’s got. Yes, father Brooks (Stephen Dillane) is a jerk who runs off with Tony’s cover girlfriend but the film is about the incestuous relationship between mother and son as she covets his boyfriends and generally acts like a monster.

It’s more or less Mommie Dearest with a semiotics degree, and its insulting angle is to leer at the sensational transgressions of the Baeklands while pretending that they’re delving into gender and sexuality. The parade of horrible acts hasn’t got a context that would enlighten us on anything; it’s just Moore doing things so awful as to curl your hair. And while mama Baekland surely had some ’splainin’ to do, her invocation here is as a camp gorgon to be bitchily dished about in the coldest, most austere manner possible.

At least Mommie Dearest begrudgingly admired the bad mother for her balls-out insanity. This is so smug and self-satisfied that what was already a powder keg of discomfort seems depressing, upsetting and ultimately hateful.

There isn’t an ounce of human feeling in the whole movie, and when it finally heads down the true crime road that made these people famous, you’re happy that at least someone was put out of their misery. (Maximum)