how the dead live: savage grace

Miz Julianne Moore models the classic "little incest dress": cocktails at happy hour, seduce your son after the theatre!

In the face of the carnage that Harvey Levin's stargazey/starfucky/semi-reality trash of TMZ makes nightly of decency, taste, good sense, and whatever continues to make television worthwhile, something like Kenneth Anger's “Hollywood Babylon” - a catalogue of weird sex, death, and Tinseltown dementia put out about 25 years ago - looks like pleasantly quaint camp (though I’m sure that Anger had to know that to merely put out his book was a challenge to some future aspiring media huckster). But the soft core fascination/revulsion with rich and/or famous people and their scandalous lives Anger's tome embodied had been a major theme for filmmakers for a long time, even before he managed to give it a handle: Peyton Place (1957), Valley of the Dolls (1967), Star 80 (1983) to name a few, with maybe the highest (or most tolerable) manifestation being Barbet Schroeder’s re-telling of the Sunny and Klaus von Bulow melodrama, Reversal of Fortune (1990), which netted Jeremy Irons an Oscar for his icy portrayal of suspected wife-poisoner Klaus (though most people assume it was a “make-up” Oscar for his stunning turn a year or two before playing the uber-co-dependent twins, Elliot and Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s classic 1988 film Dead Ringers).

Despite cast and crew assurances that Savage Grace is a “smart” and “whole” movie about real people, Tom Kalin’s look at the pervy loves and lives of the Bakelands – heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune – slides neatly into the middle of the chintzy Hollywood Babylon sub-sub genre pack: Brooks Baekland (Stephen Dillane) is a handsome, terse, and learned WWII-vet as well as sometime “adventurer” to far-off places (who digs anal and seducing comely young women, even if they’re dating his son), Barbara Daly Baekland (Julianne Moore) is a MILFy sexpot with ambitions for herself, occasionally her painting, and her son’s place in high society (who also loves her boy so dearly that she’ll share boyfriends with him, or just throw him a nice fuck once in a while), and Antony Baekland (Eddie Redmayne) is a milquetoast layabout who toys with the idea of writing, or do something kinda laybouty and artistic (and got into the habit of having sexy sleepovers with neighborhood boys at about eleven, and just hasn’t quit it since).

There’s a low buzz of decadence throughout, and all sorts of accusations about who’s sleeping with whom and what that actually means, and that’s basically Savage Grace: lurching from one scene of decadence to the next, one accusation to the next, until finally a little bit of drama happens, near the very end, though I won’t ruin it for any scandal porn junkies out there (though I’m sure if you are a scandal porn junkie, you probably already know all about this story – you wouldn’t be a scandal porn junkie otherwise, now would you?) Still, I have to wonder why Kalin felt as though this was a story that needed to be told, because there’s very little to learn from this odd little love triangle – and very little for his actors to say or do in this grumpy little movie - save to marvel at their great taste in bed partners (who they don’t seem to enjoy bedding very much at all), their clothing, (tres chic!) and vacation villas (oo-la-la!).

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