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Some Velvet Morning | Review

Women Are From Velvet: Labute’s Latest Chapter in Power Struggles of the Sexes

Neil Labute Some Velvet Morning Poster ReviewIts title recalling that late 60’s psychedelic pop song from Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelton, a duet between a man and a mysterious woman that instructs him in the ways of love, Neil Labute returns to what he does best with Some Velvet Morning, a one setting two-hander that feels an awful lot like a filmed stage play. It also happens to be the best output from the provocateur in over a decade, though that’s not to say it’s an overtly appealing film. Rather, it’s a bit tiresome to sit through, a bickering pair of selfish ex-lovers duke it out in a constant struggle to remain in control of a tense reunion in seemingly endless revolution. Until, as seems to be Labute’s custom, a surprising twist is revealed which begs for a reexamination of everything we’ve just witnessed. Maddening in its banality and entertaining in its spurts of bitchy sparring, this dark and dismal psychological exercise features two winning performances in a film that warrants excited discussion after its closing frames.

One morning, a young woman (Alice Eve) awakens to someone at the door. Surprised, she sees Fred (Stanley Tucci), an ex-lover with luggage in tow. Thinking he has stopped by because he missed a flight, the woman’s guarded approach slowly gives way to discomfort. We quickly collect details about their relationship, which we soon learn is not an altogether healthy one. Fred, a lawyer, used to be involved in an illicit affair with the young woman he used to know as Velvet, apparently something of a high class call girl type. She adamantly wishes he wouldn’t call her that now as that was all years ago. So, strange then that, suddenly, after years without contact (it seems he had been asked to leave her alone), here he is at her door, having packed his bags and left his wife of several odd decades without a word. The woman formerly known as Velvet seems unamused, politely trying to ease Fred out of her house as she has a coffee date with another young man…who happens to be Fred’s very married son, Chris. Within twenty minutes, tensions boil into a first round of shouts as hurt feelings tumble forth. Vacillating between being besotted at Velvet’s nonchalance and the desire to engage in aggressive sex, Fred extolls a smarmy vibe that only seems to ruffle the very poised and very British Velvet when he brings up moments from her past. Just as they seem to be at an amiable impasse, their drama boils out of control.

Earlier this year Labute’s play Some Girl(s) was adapted into a film by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer in which a Man (played by Adam Brody), insists on visiting old girlfriends on the eve of his wedding, to set the record straight on how and why the relationships ended, etc. Tucci’s Fred is like the aged version of Brody’s Man in that, much like dogs that mark their territory, Labute seems to be fascinated with man’s desire to return to past conquests for rejuvenation or inspiration. Once won, women are at perpetual disposal.

A simple yet fascinating twist puts many hypotheses to rest, and it would be remiss to give it away. However, what with Labute’s various explorations of the monstrous misogynist, which the vile Tucci excellently embodies here, the strange incarnation of Alice Eve’s faux Velvet brings to mind Hitchcock’s views on actresses as prostitutes. And here she is, an undaunted blonde with bright red dress and lusciously painted lips.

Some Velvet Morning would be nothing without the excellent performances of Tucci and Eve. In fact, they’re almost too good; as they’re not mugging for melodrama, the film, even with its brief running time, often feels like an extended round of bitter bickering. Of course, there are plenty of acerbic jabs and hollowed melancholic meanderings (“I didn’t come here to hate you”) as Labute is known for. Rogier Stoffers, who has served as DP on a number of high profile films (including Labute’s remake misfire, Death at a Funeral) seems to be operating with little flourish. Tucci and Eve are confined within her house and her curiously boxy lawn, and everything seems brightly lit, with Eve’s red dress making her seem like some decadent flower. But it’s an arresting and glaring close-up during the climax that is even more powerful in hindsight.

Choosing to close the film with The Turtles track “Happy Together” and not the title Sinatra song seems a strange move, especially since plenty of films have already been named for The Turtles track or its lyrics (Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together; Ol Parker’s Imagine Me & You) or have used it more memorably (Honore’s adaptation of Georges Bataille’s Ma Mere takes the cake). True, it’s an eerie tune to close the credits, but it courts cliché. Sinatra’s sing-songy voice crooning “Flowers are the things we know/Secrets are the things we grow,” mixed with Hazelton’s promise to upon up our gate, seems a more appropriate accompaniment.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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