After I saw Loverboy, the new film directed by Kevin Bacon, my jaw hurt. Not from laughing, but from the one-two punch the film delivers. It's bad, and it's depressing.
Loverboy is a vanity project to the extreme. Not only does it star Mr. Bacon's wife, Kyra Sedgwick, but it features most of their immediate family, including (no kidding) the dog, and several well-known names (friends of Bacon?) in cameos. Based upon the award-winning novel by Victoria Redel, a poet, the film tells the disturbing story of Emily Stoll, (Sedgwick). Emily is the daughter of Marty (Bacon) and Sybil (Marisa Tomei), a couple so absorbed in each other and distant from their child that she later decides that she doesn't want a husband. Yet she yearns for a child of her own. Emily is independently wealthy, and, based upon some arcana she's read, believes that the best child will be conceived in a competition between "multiple ejaculations from different sources". So off she goes in search of semenal gold.
What follows is a cross-country trek in the course of which (intercourse of which?) she bangs a guy in the stacks of a library, following a seduction consisting of the words, "Can you guide me to Flaubert?", said as if Flaubert were the name of the guy's dick. Shades of bad Woody Allen dialogue. Other "sources" include a Harvard academic who talks as if he's vomiting up his Ph.D thesis, and someone she screws in Memphis on the hood of a car. Sadly, the project ends in failure as Emily conceives, then miscarries. So much for that multiple ejaculation theory. Undaunted, Emily finally finds Paul (Campbell Scott), a businessman, at a hotel. He's good-looking, witty, and romantic, and, evidently, his guys can swim. Nine months later, son Paul is born. Now, things begin to get weird. What starts out as motherly love gradually becomes obsessive, controlling, and destructive.
I haven’t read the book, only excerpts, and based upon these it appears that the film actually tones Emily's character down, weakening the story. Emily's love for her son, as portrayed in the film, has elements of what most parents undoubtedly feel. She strives to protect him from pain, idealizes him as a superior child, and she's convinced that her way of raising him, to the exclusion of all other influences, is the right way. As an exploration of the crossing of the line between love of another and self-love, the story has significant potential impact. Perhaps the novel achieved its aim. Sadly, and despite good intentions, the filmmakers have messed up royally.
Loverboy is handicapped from the start by an excessive amount of voice-over narration by Emily. This may be a by-product of the film's origin as a novel, but the language, lyrical and poetic though it strives to be, comes across as artificial and annoying. When Emily isn't sounding like she's reading a particularly sappy children's book, she pontificates like a live version of the World Book Encyclopedia, spouting obscure facts. Other times she's a cross between Kahlil Gibran and a Hallmark card. She's a pretentious intellectual snob with a superiority complex. So, okay, a character doesn't have to be likable to be effective, or we wouldn't have villains, would we? The problem is this. Bacon, and the camera, obviously worship Sedgwick/Emily. There are innumerable close-ups of her face and a shot of her curled up, naked, in a fetal position that belongs in an art book. Soon enough I found myself manipulated, confused, and unable to marshal any feeling for her or the film other than complete exasperation.
The flashbacks to Emily's childhood are mercifully infrequent and contribute little to the story. Bacon's cheap, stereotyped Seventies clothes make him look ridiculous. Marisa Tomei, at least, is funny as a lusty ditz. Their characters are poorly developed, as are the others in the film, and the potentially powerful central theme is further buried amidst stock situations. Matt Dillon has a small role as a rugged geologist, but unfortunately not small enough to spare him from spouting more phony novelspeak.
There’s a scene done twice that sums up my feelings about Loverboy. According to the Emilyclopedia, the Bedouins have a ritual that involves whispering a secret into a goat’s ear. This is acted out by Emily and Paul in a pretty meadow with pretty (well, OK, cute) albino goats. At the end of the film, the scenario is repeated involving two adolescents whom I won't identify. By that time, I was so bummed by the film’s cloying sentimentality and overall repulsiveness that my secret hope was for the goats to stop putting up with this nonsense and butt someone’s ass. Preferably the director's.