Some Velvet Morning: Tribeca Review

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Stanley Tucci
Neil LaBute returns to familiar themes in this talky and gimmicky cinematic chamber piece.

Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve star in Neil LaBute's provocative two-hander about a couple's reunion after many years.

Filmmaker Neil LaBute returns to his old bag of tricks in Some Velvet Morning, his claustrophobic two-hander that tackles many of his familiar themes while harkening back to his stage roots. The film, consisting essentially of one long emotionally and sexually charged conversation between two ambiguous characters, benefits greatly from the superb performances by Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve.  But its repetitive structure and twisty surprise ending may prove frustrating for audiences, especially those unaware of the writer/director’s propensity for pulling the rug out from under us. The film, which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, faces limited theatrical returns.

Set entirely in the gorgeously appointed, two-story New York City brownstone home of the beautiful twenty-something Velvet—it remains a mystery, at least for a while, as to how she could possibly afford it—the story concerns the reunion between her and Fred, a middle-aged attorney with whom she’s obviously had a relationship. Suddenly appearing at her door after a four-year absence, Fred declares that he has finally left his wife and expects him and Velvet to pick up right where they left off.

The flummoxed Velvet clearly has other ideas, having long since moved on with her life. Further complicating matters are her apparent relationships with other men, including Fred’s married son, who she occasionally meets for coffee. “And other things,” she adds obliquely.

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Alternately hostile and affectionate, bullying and vulnerable, Fred is clearly deeply in love with Velvet, even if he has the unfortunate habit of ending many of their exchanges by suggesting that she perform oral sex on him. The conversation between the two is elliptical and oblique, filled with vague references to such things as “all that cash” and frequently dotted with Fred’s condescendingly analysis of Velvet’s use of such hackneyed phrases as “hang on to your hat” and “whatever.”

LaBute’s gift for profanely funny, pungent, dialogue is well on display here. At one point when talking about their relationship complicated by their age differences, Fred points out, “That’s the way these things go. Did you ever read Lolita? It ends badly.”    

Not surprisingly for those familiar with the filmmaker/playwright’s work, things eventually take a darker, more violent turn. The story’s surprising resolution will seem either breathtakingly audacious or simply gimmicky, depending on how one feels about being manipulated.

Tucci was born to play this sort of abrasive character, handling LaBute’s tonally shifting dialogue with consummate skill, while the gorgeous Eve proves a highly capable foil. But while Some Velvet Morning might have made for a very effective theatrical one-act play, it lacks the dramatic heft to justify its big-screen running time.

(Tribeca Film Festival)

Production: Cristile Entertainment, Contemptible Entertainment

Cast: Stanley Tucci, Alice Eve

Director/screenwriter: Neil LaBute

Producers: David Zander, Trent Othick, Michael Corrente, Tim Harms, Daryl Freimark

Executive producers: Forrest E. Crisman Jr., Kevin Sisti Jr.

Director of photography: Roger Stoffers

Editor: Joel Plotch

Production designer: Neil Patel

Costume designer: Katherine Roth

Not rated, 82 min.