2017, R, 100 min. Directed by Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole, Pilou Asbaek, Steph DuVall, Jack Kilmer, Susan Traylor, Joel McCoy.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 29, 2017
Sibling competitors on Anna Wintour’s Fashion Fund and Woodshock directors the Mulleavy sisters may have an eye for startling imagery both on and off the catwalk, but their debut attempt at feature filmmaking comes across as 100 minutes of artfully mused, honey-dipped, lens flaring bafflement that may work better than Valium when it comes down to firing those over-energetic synapses. On the other hand, given its subject matter, it might be a helluva lot of fun on cannabis, but the first impression is definitely one of all style, and precious little substance.
Dunst, who gets an executive producer credit, is Theresa, a thirtysomething woman who has recently assisted her terminally ill mother across the veil with the help of some reefer spiked with an unidentified something-or-other. Enter grief, trauma, and loss, the three horsemen of depression, as Theresa, who works at a medical marijuana dispensary, slides in and out of a dopey torpor, wandering around her mother’s house, taking long walks in the surrounding Northern California forest, and generally allowing the THC to have its way with her: Melancholia, indeed.
There’s much meditative camerawork to get giddy over in Woodshock thanks to DP Peter Flinckenberg’s dreamy, ethereal imagery, but Theresa is such an unknown quantity that it’s difficult to work up any serious sympathy for her loss when we know so little of her backstory. Her alleged boyfriend Nick (Cole), a logger, enters and exits the film without making much of an impression while Theresa’s boss at the dispensary (Asbaek) is hostile and vaguely threatening to her. But what, exactly, is going on here? Are the random flashbacks that pop up every 20 minutes or so actual events with real meaning, or are they merely window dressing for Theresa’s paranoiac drug-induced stupor? Admittedly, the Mulleavys do a good job on visually communicating the labyrinthine corridors of a mind way too high on what may be one bad drug trip. Then again, it may not be for the audience to entirely discern, but an unreliable narrator who never actually narrates things renders the film a stoney, red-eyed, albeit impeccably coutured mystery, but one that never quite sorts itself out.