Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2018 12:37 pm 
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NICHOLAS TUCCI AND ADDISON TIMLIN IN SUBMISSION

Entrapment by prose of a writing teacher

Richard Levine's Submission is well timed as a corrective, or will be if the story from Francine Prose's novel is taken as it's meant to be, as a satire on political correctness. The novel's title was Blue Angel, referring to the Josef von Sternberg film where professor Emil Jannings is turned into a slobbering clown by showgirl Marlene Dietrich. In Prose's novel, the older man is being used by his young student as a dupe. There is a danger that the satirical element will be swept under not only by today's' hysteria about sexual assault but by the way this movie shifts around and swallows the novel's original details. In making up this story Francine Prose was reacting, it's said, to what she perceived as the over-censoring of a male academic colleague for a sexual impropriety. Hopefully this film will inspire debate.

Ted Swenson (Nicholas Tucci) is a tenured teacher of creative writing at a second tier college in northern Vermont, happily married to Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick), the school nurse. He has an admired novel, but a decade of writer's block, and in this position of comfort and mild humiliation he must spend class time soothing the sensitivities of talentless students. Along comes Angela Argo (Addison Timlin), a talented one, whose novel in progress, Eggs, concerns a prof's affair with a girl student. Angela has some semi-pornographic poetry Ted's tipped off to. Beside that, the girl shamelessly flatters and fawns on him. In his admiration, or surprise, he falls for Angela. The result (spoiler alert) is his slow and gradual and sure destruction. Could it be otherwise?

In his performance as a teacher Tucci avoids clumsy academic awkwardness, or in a strange way, makes his uncomfortable moments seem quite natural. His usual baldness, which could seem too gay or too macho, is masked by a toupee. We get that while Ted is bored and frustrated he also knows how lucky and secure he is here; hence he has never flirted with a girl student before, not once. But he keeps wanting to read one more chapter of Angela's Eggs, and she keeps after him. He's so obsessed he gives that as the title of his own novel at a faculty party - where he shows how close to unhinged he is by uttering a string of expletives at the dinner table to emphasize that the faculty cater too much to the students' sensitivities. Angela is a nasty little exploiter, and things don't stay friendly with her very long. This girl is using this man way more than he's ever using her.

The movie's most cynical (more than funny) moment comes when Ted lunches with his New York publisher (Peter Gallagher) who rebuffs his recommendation of Angela's novel ("take the manuscript back, tell the girl you'll show it to me - if she'll let you fuck her!") and insists he should write a confessional, recovery memoir ("better to be a hot new memoirist than a md-list middle-aged novelist"). Francine Prose has more than one bone to pick in her novel.

Angela's "entrapment" is contemporary - circa 2000, anyway, the date of the Prose novel. She persuades her prof to drive her out of town to get a new hard drive for her computer, and to come up to her dorm room to help her install it. In the inevitable groping and grappling, consummation stops at his broken tooth, a comedy of errors between sexy and foolish.

In the movie, the girl is badly conceived. In the book she's plain and punkish, with lots of rings and piercings. She's been glamorized here, looks-wise, softened and made pretty and blonde; but grammar-wise, is turned into a girl who who puts together a sentence like "Him and his wife split up." Prose dared to present substantial blocks of her manuscript to justify Ted's literary infatuation but here, there's not enough to do that. An essential element of caring about her and about him is lost here.

The movie is also weakened and even confused by an overuse of voiceover narration initially, and an absorption in physical business later on that loses the satirical tone which Tucci's naturalistic performance muffles from the start. We're kept at a damaging distance from both main characters, with each unconvincingly appealing for sympathy with tragic parental tales. Though Tucci and Timlin both do their best with the roles they're given, in the end it's Kyr Sedgewick's affronted wife who has the best scene. Given the low-keyed humor and the limited appeal of the main characters, there's not much for audiences to latch onto here.

Submission, 106 mins., debuted (only) at Woodstock 13 Oct. 2017, opens limited 2 Mar. 2018 (NYC) and 9 Mar. (limited).

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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