Warning: This review doesn’t reveal any specific spoilers, but it does discuss a major element of the film. Proceed with caution.
Deceit is the name of the game in director/screenwriter Neil LaBute’s indie Some Velvet Morning. Not only does the production masquerade as a film when many would call it a play – the set is contained and the cast only includes Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve – but it also puts the audience through some classic LaBute mind games. (If you know LaBute’s work – The Wicker Man and The Shape of Things – then you’re familiar with his attraction to plots that aren’t always as they seem.) But whether the audience is okay with being manipulated or not, both the dialogue and the well-written characters, which are strongly executed by Tucci and Eve, make the tumultuous ride through LaBute’s world worth the deceit.
Set entirely in Velvet’s (Eve) suspiciously well-decorated and expansive two-level brownstone, the story follows a middle-aged man named Fred (Tucci) who has left his wife in the hopes of reuniting with his 20-or-30-something ex-lover. Unfortunately, Fred fails to let Velvet know that he’s coming to visit and, based on the number of suitcases he’s brought with him, that he’s planning on staying for quite a while. What results is the pair matching up against each other in a vindictive and sexually-charged back-and-forth dialogue duel that lasts the entirety of the film.
The conversation – which looks more like a game of chess between two skilled players – revolves around the conflict of Fred wanting to be with Velvet, and Velvet not wanting anything to do with Fred. However, his sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies lead him to believe he deserves to have her and, more importantly, have sex with her. Tucci flawlessly embodies the entitled demeanor and bitter attitude of a man who can’t have what he wants, and we watch as he attempts to control a soft-spoken and collected Eve who, while at first seems to be the victim, quickly shows herself to be quite the competitor. So what about their volatile, anger-infused, twisted, and cruelly sexual relationship keeps us so utterly absorbed in it? The vagueness of it all. The anger that Fred emits and the underlying threat behind each sentence he utters makes us wonder why we don’t want to jump in and defend Velvet. By the books, Velvet is the victim. But there’s this unspoken sense of apathy that falls of off her as she resolutely struts through her home, evidently unaffected by the man who is refusing to leave her home, which makes us feel that there's something we’re not being told. We want to stick around and solve the puzzle that LaBute has set before us. And because LaBute has his trademark shtick, there is of course a surprise ending that throws us through a whirlwind of emotions – emotions that some people will appreciate while others will not.
Deception aside, where the film will falter for some is the fact that it doesn’t seem like a film at all. If we take a closer look at its core elements, it seems like it would be better suited for the stage, which isn’t a far-fetched idea considering the director’s long history with theater. While LaBute does a fine job of navigating the space that he has allotted himself by moving the actors throughout the house in a fluid pace, it still doesn’t hide the fact we’re watching two people hold a conversation in a constrained, almost claustrophobic, space for almost two hours.
But in the end, whether you think it’s a play or film, or whether the ending makes you want to hurl your popcorn at the screen in anger or calmly say, “You got me, LaBute,” in satisfying defeat, he has done his job: He’s made us react to Some Velvet Morning. Yes, he most definitely pulled the rug out from under us, but hey, we’re the ones that decided to watch a LaBute production in the first place. We’ve all been duped, and now Labute is smugly smiling in the corner while he watches his work at play.