Suffering Man's Charity

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South by Southwest

AUSTIN -- An aesthete with high ideals and mediocre talents stumbles into a bit of inspiration in "Suffering Man's Charity," a darkly comic revenge fantasy offering star Alan Cumming a chance to go over the top. Boxoffice potential is limited by an arch tone and familiar premise, though on the small screen it might have some campy cult appeal.

Cumming plays John Vandermark, a prissy classical music tutor who fancies himself a composer and has a weakness for hunky hustlers like Sebastian (David Boreanaz), a lady killer who evidently led John to believe he would sleep with him in return for room and board. Instead, Sebastian has spent his nights picking up women and his days "working on his novel" and racking up a serious long-distance bill.

When John finally works up the nerve to confront him, the discussion quickly grows violent. To the surprise of everyone involved, scrawny John gets the upper hand and knocks the big lug out. He tapes old blankets over all the house's windows, ties Sebastian to a dining chair with a string of Christmas lights, dresses him in women's underwear and proceeds to make him pay for being such a bad houseguest.

The setup and the script's frequent high-art allusions scream "stage play," and theater vet Cumming is happy to go that way, with an extravagantly angry, sarcastic performance that has him slapping Boreanaz around with a violin bow and taking pleasure yanking off and reapplying the duct tape over his mouth. Directing the film as well, Cumming enjoys framing his rants in tracking shots so the viewer doesn't miss a sneer. The staging -- with shafts of bright, flaring light poking through holes in the window coverings -- also highlights the limitations of the picture's high-def photography, making its look lean toward that of a made-for-cable horror flick.

One bright moment is a cameo by Karen Black, who even compared to Cumming is the only actor ready to abandon all self-respect in service of a script that needs its characters to come unhinged. As the falling-down drunk tramp Sebastian meets on his last night of boozing, she makes it easy to see why a band would name itself The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black.

The tale ends with a longish sequence that perhaps should have been a quick ironic epilogue, as we already understand that whatever comes after this festival of abuse and shame-wallowing can't possibly be good.

SUFFERING MAN'S CHARITY
NOW Pictures / Donald Zuckerman / Sixth Way
Credits:
Director: Alan Cumming
Writer: Thomas Gallagher
Producers: D.J. Paul, Craig Snider, Donald Zuckerman
Executive producers: Alan Cumming, Ken Adelberg, David Matthews
Director of photography: Alexander Vendler
Production designer: Michael Krantz
Costume designer: Christopher Lawrence
Music: Paul Cantelon
Co-producers: Thomas Gallagher, David Gorder, Jeremy Rubin
Editor: Keith Reamer
Cast:
John Vandermark: Alan Cumming
Sebastian St. Germain: David Boreanaz
Helen: Anne Heche
Eric: Henry Thomas
Renee: Karen Black
Photographer: Jane Lynch
Reporter: Carrie Fisher
Running time -- 92 minutes
No MPAA rating
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