Monday, June 20, 2011

"Boogie Woogie" String Along For Real

It's always fun when you run across a review or mention of a film you've never previously heard of and it sounds so intriguing you end up watching it. Sometimes that approach can put you in for an endurance test, but other times you discover something really entertaining.  I stumbled onto the film Boogie Woogie just browsing through Netflix one day. The cast (Christopher Lee, Heather Graham and a host of others) and premise sounded interesting so I put it in my queue and I finally watched it yesterday. It turned out to be a fun black comedy that slipped through the cracks big time.

It's set in the London art world with a cast of characters who are almost uniformly despicable, art dealers, art collectors and artists who are constantly trying to screw each other both figuratively and literally.  The main thrust of the plot is supposedly an original Piet Mondrian painting, one of his geometric "Boogie Woogie" series, hence the film's title,  owned by an aging collector, played by Lee, who refuses to sell no matter how much his wife, played by Joanna Lumley, and an oily art dealer, played by Danny Huston, beg him to.  That's really just part of the snaky goings-on which also include, Huston's top assistant, played by Graham sleeping with a rich collector (Stellan Skarsgard) to get him to finance her own gallery, the collector's wife (Gillian Anderson) sleeping with an ambitious artist (Jack Huston, Danny's nephew) just because, and a lesbian artist (Jamie Winstone) keeping a video diary of her entire life including her betrayal of her agent and her numerous infidelities against her girlfriend.

90 minutes in the company of this crew could be hard to take but this movie is as light and subversively funny as an updated Evelyn Waugh novel.  The characters play out varying degrees of greed, ambition and callousness so that it's not just shrill, one level humor.  Most of the acting is fine expect for Gillian Anderson who does not do a convincing upper class London accent and whose role could have better been played by the great Joanna Lumley who is wasted in a small part. On the other hand, Huston as the slimy, insincere dealer and Skarsgard as the bluff, happily lecherous collector are great and Alan Cumming and Amanda Seyfried are good as the two innocents among all these sharks. Heather Graham is nicely calculating in her role as well plus she has a topless scene, which is never a bad thing. 

I don't know what if any American release this film had, probably just a week or two in some New York theater if that, but this is a prime example of the kind of solid, smart movie you can still uncover if you keep your eyes open.

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