This is an awful, terrible movie. It’s awfully delicious and terribly funny. I figured when I heard the plot line that it was going to be deeply serious, with people baring their souls, a bit like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It is a 4-person play, like Woolf, taking place in real time on one set, except for two outside framing scenes. But I felt very different watching this one. It is supposed to take place in Brooklyn, but it was directed by Roman Polanski in France, for obvious reasons.
The set-up: An 11-year-old boy hits another boy in the mouth with a stick, busting up his lip and knocking out two teeth. The victim is the son of Jodie Foster, who may be a writer and may be an alcoholic, and John C. Reilly, who sells bathroom fixtures for a living. The attacker is the son of Christoph Waltz, a high-powered lawyer with a cell phone attached to his hand, and Kate Winslet, an investment broker or banker or some such shit. They have met in John and Jodie’s apartment to discuss it all, apologize, accept the apology, and decide on what’s an appropriate punishment. They are all oh-so-civilized about it. But then little cracks begin to appear in their urbane façade. It’s clear that the couples don’t like each other … and that the husbands and wives don’t like each other, either. Before long it all degenerates into schoolyard name-calling every bit as juvenile as their sons engaged in. In the later stages it is fueled by John C.’s 18-year-old Scotch. It’s not always couple against couple. At some points the women are bonding, and then hating each other, and the same with the men. In one of the most surprising comic scenes I’ve ever seen, Kate, who has had an upset stomach (possibly caused by Jodie’s apple-pear cobbler) projectile vomits all over the valuable books on the coffee table. How gross and embarrassing is that?
It’s an actor’s bonanza, naturally, and all four acquit themselves very well. John C. is clearly outclassed in education and station in life, and reacts by getting increasingly loutish. Waltz must answer his cell phone twenty times in the course of the movie, trying to set the strategy in some sleazy drug product liability case, while the other three simmer in silence. Kate becomes pretty unhinged, shedding her sophistication like a snake’s skin, and going nuclear because John C. murdered a hamster by setting it free on the sidewalk. Jodie also melts down, but in a different way. It was all fascinating, and frequently hilarious, as they had no idea how childish they look to us, the audience.