|The Center of the World
It seems that every generation has one film that more or less
captures the sexual Zeitgeist. While which movie is a debatable issue,
one could argue that for the 1960s it was I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW),
in the 70s it was LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and the 80s, 9 ½ WEEKS.
The 1990s is a bit more problematic, in part due to the further fractionation
of society brought about by the growth of the Internet and other home
entertainment products. (One might offer up the David Cronenberg-directed
CRASH, but that hardly touched the mainstream in the same way as the
others cited.) By the time the 20th Century died out, porn was moving
closer to the mainstream and sex was less and less taboo. Perhaps the 90s
finally has its movie (albeit a couple of years late) in the latest from director
Wayne Wang: THE CENTER OF THE WORLD.
It's already a period piece as the film's main character is a slacker
computer geek whose company is about to go public. Already wealthy,
Richard Longman (embodied with puppyish charm by Peter Sarsgaard)
stands to make even more money in the stock market. Slightly immature
and lacking in developed social skills, Richard encounters Florence (Molly
Parker) at a coffee shop and becomes intrigued by her looks. When she
tells him that she works as a stripper to earn cash that allows her to pursue
her real career of music, he is even more intrigued. Of course, Richard has
to check out her act, resulting in his becoming even more smitten.
Since he's wallowing in cash, Richard offers Florence a proposition:
a weekend in Las Vegas. At first, she refuses but the prospect of some
quick cash ($10,000) makes her reconsider and she agrees, but with ground
rules. They will meet only between the hours of 10pm and 2am, there will
be no penetration and emotions are to be kept in check. It is to be strictly
a business arrangement. This being a movie, though, the audience just
knows that each of her conditions will eventually erode away.
Once settled in their Vegas suite, Richard waits for the appropriate
hour. Wang and his co-writers Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt and Miranda July
(credited as Ellen Benjamin Wong) take pains to demonstrate Florence's
approach to her job. Each step of the way, it is like an actress preparing
for a stage entrance, from the way she applies her makeup to her choice
of clothing. The sex scenes are titillating but there's a remoteness to them,
partly because of the natural lighting and handheld camerawork of director
of photography Mauro Fiore. THE CENTER OF THE WORLD was shot on
digital video and the sometimes grainy quality of the picture doesn't lend
itself to romance or fantasy. Undoubtedly Wang was going for a more
documentary feel to the film, but that undercuts some of the tension
and power of the piece.
It perhaps also doesn't help that the two main characters are merely
variations on themes audiences have seen many, many times before.
Florence is the seemingly hard-bitten working girl who has a sensitive
side. Richard is the geek with too much money who doesn't understand
or appreciate his power until backed into a corner, at which time he commits
a heinous action. These are literary archetypes that aren't fully fleshed-out
characters, no matter how hard the actors try to breathe life into them.
Indeed, Sarsgaard and Parker should be commended for the brave, gutsy
move of tackling this project. Both have proven their mettle in other films
and undoubtedly will go on to do so again. The delicately attractive Parker
graced several fine films including SUNSHINE and WONDERLAND and
she has already demonstrated her fearlessness in undertaking roles that
are far from the mainstream, chiefly her necrophiliac in KISSED.
Sarsgaard made an auspicious debut as Leonardo DiCaprio's rival in
love in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK and truly came into his own
with his multi-layered portrait of a Midwestern redneck in BOYS DON'T CRY.
Here, both actors make a game attempt, willingly exposing themselves
(although body doubles were used in some scenes).
The troublesome screenplay creates a world that only seems able
to accommodate Richard and Florence. Except for Carla Gugino, who plays
a girlfriend of Florence's, none of the supporting characters even register,
let alone contribute anything to the proceedings. With all due respect to
Ms. Parker and Mr. Sarsgaard, the characters of Florence and Richard
aren't terribly interesting, nor is their plight. One may get caught up in
the story as it is unfolding (Wang does know how to tell a story), but
they aren't strong enough to leave a lasting impression. They are very
different people who each possess a unique view as to where that title
spot exists. (Let's just say that it's tied to their respective lines of
Not quite a romance, not quite porn, THE CENTER OF THE WORLD
may actually be a fitting summation of the 1990s, a decade when things
got out of control and were messy.
MPAA Rating: None (sexual situation, nudity, profanity)
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.