'Viena and the Fantomes': Film Review

Courtesy of Lola Pictures
Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll isn't all it's cracked up to be.
6/30/2020

Gerardo Naranjo's long-shelved follow-up to 'Miss Bala' stars Dakota Fanning as a hanger-on touring with a rock band.

One of two offerings this year from Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo, Viena and the Fantomes looks to be the less likely to please fans of his much-admired 2011 Miss Bala (remade as a much-less-admired Gina Rodriguez vehicle last year): While his Mexico-set Kokoloko (a virtual Tribeca fest entry awaiting distribution) reportedly returns to tales of gang violence, Viena throws its heroine out on tour with a rock band as something between a roadie and a groupie.

A dispiriting film that has languished on the shelf since 2014, it stars Dakota Fanning but is likely being released now with the hope that small appearances by Evan Rachel Wood and Zoë Kravitz will add commercial appeal. Fans of the latter two thesps will likely feel cheated.

The pic's title may suggest that the Fantomes are Viena's backup band, packing arenas as she sings to adoring fans. Not at all. Fanning's Viena (real name Julia) is a nobody from nowhere, who for unknown reasons wants to become part of the entourage of a self-important post-punk band whose music we'll hear very little of. We barely even meet them, really: Allergic to detail or context, the movie lets us guess which of these scrawny dudes writes the songs, who sings or why anybody comes to their gigs. We just know that they travel in a caravan of much-abused RVs, accompanied by a crew that seems disproportionately large. (Given how some of the grunts seem to vanish from the scene without explanation, sometimes to reappear, one imagines some studio-directed editing may have occurred over the past six years.)

Viena's unnamed friend (Sarah Steele), one of the roadies, gets her into the crew, which isn't much of a favor: Young women schlep three or four duffel bags at a time into motel rooms while shirtless men have more important things to do with women who've graduated from grunt work to girlfriend. Madge (Kravitz) sleeps with Albert (Caleb Landry Jones) and serves as de facto tour manager; Wood's Susi is with Freddy (Jeremy Allen White), and her job is to make roadies feel like crap. After an especially power-mad tantrum (Wood demonstrates a feel for the character's insecure position), Susi gets booted from the tour and the job of Freddy's Girl becomes available.

Viena has been flirting with British crew member Keyes (Frank Dillane, who seems to be having a better time than anyone else here), but now that has to end. Freddy has a possessive side, and hooking up with him estranges her from the rest of the entourage.

Early scenes show us, without getting graphic, the kind of sexual aggression tolerated around and within the band. There's a rumor that two of the guys nearly drowned a 16-year-old girl in a Jacuzzi; when a female reporter asks Albert about accusations, he seems ready to assault her despite the presence of onlookers. (Jones' heavy-breathing, mumbly presence here makes his colorful performances in Get Out and elsewhere look very restrained.) In short, we know Viena is heading for something bad, and most of us will wish she could have at least a bit of fun before she gets there.

But if Viena knows anything about its namesake's inner life or desires, it's not telling. Is she bright or dumb? Harboring secret artistic impulses? Attracted to fame or just looking for a circus to run away with? Attractively grimy photography by Emilio Valdés and an overall gone-to-seed aesthetic make this particular tour feel like a mild hangover without the previous night's good times, which is probably the point.

Production companies: Lola Pictures, Ousia Entertainment, Mutressa Movies
Distributor: Universal Pictures (Available Tuesday, June 30, on demand)
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Jeremy Allen White, Frank Dillane, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Ettinger, Sarah Steele
Director-Screenwriter: Gerardo Naranjo
Producers: Hunter Gray, Alex Orlovsky, Christopher Ramirez
Executive producers: Tony Hsieh, Kevin Iwashina, Jason Carter Miller, Fred Mossler
Director of photography: Emilio Valdés
Production designers: Philippa Culpepper, Anna Terrazas
Costume designer: Anna Terrazas
Editors: Charles Cantrell, Cody LeBoeuf, Ryan LeBoeuf
Composer: Will Patterson
Casting director: Mark Bennett

Rated R, 93 minutes