Seen at the Movies:
Spike Lee’s She Hate Me is a terrible movie, but it’s so self-consciously outrageous that it’s also rather fascinating. It purports to take on the subject of corporate corruption, but it also delves into the realm of baby-making with lesbians and finds this topic so juicy that the corporate angle is almost forgotten. Anthony Mackie plays Jack, a biotech executive who gets fired when he blows the whistle on unscrupulous practices in his firm, a pharmaceutical concern attempting to get an AIDS vaccine approved. An SEC investigation ensues and Jack’s assets are frozen, so he agrees to impregnate both his ex-girlfriend and her current lover for cash. Soon the lesbians are lining up at his door with their fists full of money, and they want Jack’s sperm the old-fashioned way—no turkey basters for them. The sexual tables are turned as Jack begins to feel objectified and degraded.
Spike Lee’s She Hate Me photo: David Lee / Sony Pictures Classics
She Hate Me, which is co-written by Lee and Michael Genet, is not convincing for one single minute, particularly when it ends on a note that bizarrely recalls last week’s A Home at the End of the World. It’s impossible to avoid the feeling that Lee is getting some kicks out of all the lesbo/male action, and despite the presence of a lesbian advisor on set, the women-loving-women (who include Kerry Washington, Monica Bellucci, Sarita Choudhury, and Bai Ling) come off as rather stereotypically predatory. No less cartoonish are Woody Harrelson and Ellen Barkin, who play executive sharks with Jack’s former company. Still, the movie is lively if inexcusably overlong, and it’s certainly hip-looking in the Lee manner. DP Matty Libatique and production designer Brigitte Broch supply the director’s customarily vibrant palette, though there seems to be less experimentation with film stocks and processing than in Lee’s last few movies. Donna Berwick is the costume designer, and she certainly succeeds in making the parade of beautiful women look their most sleekly stunning.--John Calhoun
Seen off Broadway: Is truth stranger than fiction? Perhaps. But the bare facts are preferable to the academic tease of Fiction, a wobbly Roundabout production at the Laura Pels Theatre. Much like last season’s Broadway mishmash Match, Fiction pits three capable performers against a mountain of contrivances. Playwright Steven Dietz writes…sigh…about two long-married writers, bestselling Michael (Tom Irwin) and blocked Linda (Julie White, delectably funny and frazzled in tepid circumstances), which means, as it always does in contemporary plays about writers, a lot of strained witticisms about the craft and their aesthetic likes and dislikes. And, as it did in the much more successful cultural drama Sight Unseen, there’s also a good deal of shuttling back-and-forth in time, from the beginning of their relationship (at a Paris bistro) to what seems like its conclusion, as Linda is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given the proverbial three weeks to live. She insists they read each others’ diaries before her permanent deadline, and is tantalized to read Michael’s high-flown memories of Abby (Emily Bergl), who nursed him through his insecurities at a writer’s colony.
from left, Emily Bergl, Tom Irwin, and Julie White in Fiction. Photo courtesy Joan Marcus.
The truth of this trysting—is Michael, who hates how his books are little more than Hollywood fodder (“the reason they call film a medium is that it’s neither rare nor well-done”), just making it all up to salve his wounded artistic pride?—and the resultant consequences, should be the meat of this story. Dietz, however, has some other things he’d like to put on the table. Like why Linda, after the sensation of her one autobiographical novel dealing with her rape in South Africa, is so plugged up. Like the secret, fragile bond between Linda and Abby, who may have been a muse to more than just Michael. And, if you’re wondering how all this is resolved in just three weeks, barely enough time for even one act, and without any makeup or costume changes to indicate Linda’s steadily failing health, recall that her rocky marriage to Michael only seems to be hurtling toward its final chapter…
Director David Warren helps the performers navigate over the shoals of the conception. Irwin does what he can to make Michael less of a pill, and Bergl does her best to enliven the part of Abby, a haughty cipher. The design sensibility, however, places a double whammy on Fiction, making it more cumbersome to sit through. David C. Woolard and John Gromada supply functional costumes and sound, respectively. But James Youmans’ scenic elements, a procession of stunted units that suggest windows and décor without them ever really materializing, are entirely too abstract even for such a wispy piece; is John Lee Beatty holding the rest of the set hostage somewhere? The illumination, by Jeff Croiter, is equally problematic. At first I thought his pinks and greens and purples and oranges were adding a little resonance to the text, but by Act II it was all just a sedate lightshow. Even with a more strongly conceived design, however, Fiction is not something you would make past Chapter One. ---Robert Cashill