The Austin Chronicle

Boxing Helena

Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch. Starring Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn, Betsy Clark, Art Garfunkel, Bill Paxton, Kurtwood Smith.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 10, 1993

Writer/director Lynch -- yes, she's the daughter of Twin Peaks guru David Lynch and it shows -- has generated much notoriety for her debut feature's subject matter, a woman's mutilation at the hands of a man who supposedly loves her, and the film did leave me shocked. Shocked that so much energy had been expended on an infantile piece of psychosexual mumbo-jumbo. Forget any expectations you may have had about Boxing Helena's treatment of obsessive love, gender roles, the objectification of women, disabilities, or the psychology of prisoners and captors; there isn't any. This film has all the pyschological depth of a wading pool. Anything you've imagined without seeing the movie is likely more interesting than what's here. Yes, Lynch does give us a doctor (Sands) who is hopelessly smitten with the charming Helena (Fenn) and goes to a repellent extreme to keep her with him: he amputates her arms and legs, but beyond that, Lynch provides little more than gauzy shots of Fenn in lacy lingerie, stroking her bust with a cool cocktail glass, Sands's puppy-dog surgeon whimpering that he's hacked off her limbs only because he truly loves her, and gratuitous slo-mo. The whole thing comes off as an adolescent male fantasy -- watching women; capturing women and keeping them; overcoming one's sexual inadequacies with women, is what it's all about. Fenn does her damndest to inject some independence into Helena -- she really has her Vivien Leigh mojo working -- but it's for naught. Lynch writes the rules, and they're strictly for the boys. There's more off here -- Smith is wasted, the score seems pulled chiefly from a “Hooked on the Classics” disc -- but let's face it, any film that has you hoping for another appearance by Art Garfunkel has more than the usual share of problems. Ordinarily, I wouldn't reveal an ending intended as a surprise, but the final measure of this film's infuriating shallowness is that, after 100 minutes of charging into this moral minefield, it resolves itself with a “gee, Auntie Em, it was so real, and you were there, and you and you” it-didn't-never-happen-so-we-don't-got-to-deal-with-this-mess-after-all ending. They can still get away with that? Talk about shocking....

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