Saturday, March 26, 2011
Closing Your Eyes and Opening Your Mind
It's been quite some time since I last wrote a film review, but for Sucker Punch, the apple of my eye for give or take 6+ months, I'm ready and more than willing to write one.
The last time I was this excited for a movie, conveniently enough, was for director Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation, of which I am a huge fan of the comic book. Snyder is gifted with a stylized eye for creating gorgeous backdrops with which one can have a particularly kick-ass fight scene, a sense of staying as faithful to the book's vision as he can, and for giving us beautiful people to look at and in the case of 300, sculpted abs that would make even the biggest exercise buffs pinch themselves and demand more gym time.
Sucker Punch is different in the sense that it isn't based on any comic book adaptation, but rather an idea Snyder had spent the better part of 10 years working on. Originality in Hollywood is becoming a vastly unheard of thing and with bated breath I watched the teaser trailer, the full-length trailer, and followed the media circuit by extensively researching every aspect of the film I could, falling deeper and deeper in love with the storyline: Babydoll, a young girl, is sent to a mental institution by her evil stepfather after the death of her mother. The institution is terrifyingly bleak with no hope for escape and the promise of a lobotomy coming her way. In a manner akin to Inception's "dream within a dream", Babydoll must escape her reality by fantasizing that the institution is a brothel nightclub and further from that, a video game world where she can destroy her demons to receive her freedom.
With every photo of a costume piece donned by Babydoll and her girls, the addition of Jon Hamm in the cast, and the Sucker Punch book loaded with illustrations of set designs I poured over at Barnes and Noble, I felt my excitement building to a boiling point. I was setting myself up to be amazed by this film and trusted that it would be just as strong and tough as it promised me.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
The biggest fault of Sucker Punch is that it is rated PG-13, instead of R as I had been long under the impression it would be. Prior to changing the rating, the film would have been undoubtedly much more gorier and bloodier and would have contained more scenes from the brothel of the girls dancing in their scantily-clad costumes (which having seen the pictures, I can confirm they were amazing). But the biggest downer for me was hearing that they cut the sex scene between Jon Hamm and Emily Browning; Babydoll and her client the High Roller who after exchanging money with the nightclub owner Blue, would take Babydoll's last shred of innocence from her. There was also supposed to be another rape scene, or at least a few implied ones between Babydoll and Blue as well, but sliding into the PG-13 rating cut all of this out and left it for the director's cut DVD.
I know when I say it's a downer for a rape or sex scene to be cut from a film I'm setting the feminist movement back about 40 years, but for Sucker Punch I believe that keeping it would have been necessary to the tone of the film as a whole. Babydoll's future, and the future of her friends, in every reality except for the bad guy video game slaying world, is so bleak and hopeless that even as a viewer you know there will be no happy ending. Even when you do applaud the girls for the few upper hands in the situation they receive, you know deep down that for all of them to survive will be impossible. You keep hoping though, that even in the darkest of days, they will be triumphant and Snyder is usually skilled at darkening the world to the point where you cannot imagine it getting worse. If he had kept the scenes and left the rating at R, I can imagine the film being all the better for it, but since the scenes were cut, it left the movie feeling choppy and with questions unanswered at certain points. Also, early on in the film they make a point to note that Babydoll is 20, which leads me to further push for these scenes to have been included since she is clearly over 18.
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, you meet Babydoll, played by Emily Browning who creates the ultimate in fanboy quivering and pretty China doll fantasies. Babydoll's mother has just died and her death leaves Babydoll and her sister to live with her stepfather who is sure he has received the estate in the will and is shocked to find out that all has been left to the girls. He goes to Babydoll's room to undoubtedly rape and kill her, but she fights him off and he locks her in her room to advance on her little sister instead. Babydoll escapes out the window and reenters the house with a gun to shoot him, but accidentally winds up killing her sister instead and runs away to her mother's grave. The police arrive, with her stepfather spinning tales that she is crazy and with the gentle prick of a needle, a dazed Babydoll winds up at the mental asylum owned and run by Blue Jones (a wonderfully creepy Oscar Issac). The girls at the institution act out their lives to the on-site therapist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino, in a series of to-die-for ensembles) but its all certain that nothing will save them in the long run.
Babydoll then falls into the fantasy of imagining the institute as a burlesque house where she meets sisters Rocket (Jena Malone) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) who are "the main attraction." They dance for gentlemen clients, as taught by Gorski, who now plays the resident dance instructor, and ensure that the clients get their happy endings, so Blue gets his money and can keep running the place. When Babydoll dances, she closes her eyes and falls into the last world, a place where she is fighting off her demons with the help of the Wise Man who instructs her that in order to be free, she will need a map, fire, a knife, a key, and one last mystery object.
Using this bit of information, Babydoll tells the girls in the burlesque fantasy world that she will escape and though Sweet Pea is reluctant, they all agree to come along and help her. Babydoll is apparently an extremely titillating dancer (you never actually see her dance but it is described as "raw" with lots of "moaning and gyrating") so while she dances, the men are mesmerized and the girls run around collecting their objects, a plan that at first suspends your disbelief that these girls could find everything they need in such a heavily-armed place, but then everything comes crashing down when the girls work to get the knife from the chef.
Meanwhile, during Babydoll's dance sequences, she and the girls fight zombie SS officers, dragons in medieval times, and robots on trains with bombs as led by the Wise Man. These sequences are never boring and extremely intense, making the film stronger for it. When things begin to take a turn for the worse in this world, it is reflected in the nightclub world. In reality, Babydoll's lobotomy comes in 5 days from the doctor, and in the burlesque peep show world, it comes in the High Roller as her first client in 5 days. Yet despite these worries, there is really no sense of impending danger, no frantic rush to get the items in time, and no real sense of time in general. When Babydoll near the end of the movie finally figures out what the 5th item on the list is, I guarantee you nobody was shocked to find it out. In fact, I myself kept waiting for the swelling of some sort of friendship-themed music to start up...which lo and behold, it did.
While I enjoyed the character of Babydoll very much and also the characters of Gorski and Blue who turn out to be more than they both seem, I didn't really care for the other girls in her entourage. Sweet Pea (Cornish) has the most defined personality because she initially doesn't want to fight to leave and considers the entire plan a wash, but even then she's dull and doesn't do much outside of look after her sister (which even then she doesn't do well, ahem the scene with the cook and the chocolate). Rocket, Blondie, and Amber are all about as one-dimensional as they come. Even the High Roller, thanks to all of the scenes cut out, leaves Jon Hamm with nothing to do beyond look resplendent in a white suit. Frankly speaking, if you work at a brothel and your first client is a guy as attractive and suave as the Hamm is, you better count and thank your lucky stars that he's going to be the first guy to deflower you.
While it's worth the viewing in theatres, I prefer my Zack Snyder films to be gritty and raw and will be much more fulfilled by the director's cut rated R edition he plans to release. Only then do I believe that the film's tagline of "You Will Be Unprepared" will ring true for me.
Love to you all,