Tuesday, September 22, 2015

QUEEN OF EARTH (2015)

Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. September 8, 2015 2:30PM



"Queen of Earth", Alex Ross Perry's follow-up to his breakout indie "Listen Up Philip", plays like a present-day take on the mentally fragile women in crisis films popular during the late '60's and mid-'70's. The director seems inspired by classic psychological dramas like Roman Polanski's "Repulsion", John Cassavetes' "A Woman Under the Influence" and Ingmar Bergman's "Persona". With the aide of two riveting performances by Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston (who made quite an impression last year with her supporting role in "Inherent Vice"), Perry captures the eerie, unsettling atmosphere of those films using a loose structure, disquieting imagery and emotionally volatile exchanges. But the director has found nothing fresh or interesting to say about the stress and difficulties of being a modern woman that could lead her to coming undone.

The film opens with a close-up on the tear-stained, mascara-running face of the distraught Catherine, played by Ms Moss. Her long-time boyfriend, James (Kentucker Audley) coolly announces that he's leaving her for another woman. Catherine is devastated, trying to understand and begging him to stay, before finally resolving that this relationship is over.

She retreats to an idyllic lake house owned by her friend, Ginny (Waterston) with the hope of forgetting her troubles and working on her art. While Catherine does a little painting, she spends most of the time moping, sleeping and generally being unpleasant to be around. Ginny tries to be an understanding friend but there's an obscure tension between these two, leaving her struggling to find sympathy or patience for Catherine's plight. As each day goes by, instead of feeling better, Catherine becomes increasingly more unstable and erratic. The constant presence of Rich (Patrick Fugit), a neighbor hooking-up with Ginny and not a fan of Catherine's, doesn't help matters.

Catherine is also struggling with the recent loss of her beloved father, who was a successful artist, under unclear circumstances. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that a year ago, Catherine and James had stayed at the lake house while Ginny was going through a difficult time. While we can sense that there were some problems between Catherine and her boyfriend, she appears blissfully unaware. The film offers minimal personal information or back story to the characters with the director more interested in creating an intense and claustrophobic environment within the house. This may be to indicate that this could be the adding to Catherine's trauma but we are never really sure. There are far too many unanswered questions and not nearly enough clear ideas to keep us interested.

As her character descends deeper in to despair and instability, Ms Moss is unable to stir much compassion despite giving her all in a stellar go-for-broke performance. We don't understand much about Catherine but what we do know, it's not particularly appealing. Ginny is just as much of a blank slate but Ms Waterston manages to do fine work with very little to work with.

I was surprised to hear some have referred to the film as a dark comedy. I never really found much to laugh at. Perhaps the sight of a damaged person slowly coming unglued is supposed to inspire a chuckle. Regardless, I didn't find "Queen of Earth" satisfying as a drama or comedy. There just isn't enough to hang on to be concerned about the fate of the unpalatable Catherine. The other thing I thought is that she should really find a better class of friends.