So everyone knows I’m a Brando guy, and I’ve talked about how ‘Last Tango in Paris’ was a major influence on how I built the character I used in “Lady In My Life.” So when one of the first things I heard about ‘Shame’ was that it was on some ‘Last Tango’ type ish, I was instantly like “Oh Really?!?” I wasn’t going to hold any film to that standard but I was intrigued. And, as fate would have it, when I literally went from the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood to the Arclight only a few blocks away to catch a screening, I was really in a “Method” mood.
So let’s start there. By own scale of 1 to 10 for commitment to a role, Michael Fassbender went for the 10 here; all in surrender of his body and spirit for the character. Full salute from me for that. For those unfamiliar, ‘Shame’ is about a young bachelor in his 30s, not a bad looking dude, stable in his job and living situation, who, for reasons never explained, is both unable and frankly uninterested in building and sustaining an emotional relationship with a woman.
(Let me pause this review here because I can here a certain peanut gallery picking up their phones to text me. To you I say, shut it.)
What the main character of this film does have a passion for is sex. But as the title implies, his passion for sex is…off. He doesn’t do it for social status, for pleasure, for procreation, or as noted, for emotional connection. He just…does it. As often as possible and in plenty of inappropriate ways and places. One of the things that director Steve McQueen (a brother from across the pond) gets right in this film is showing you in the first 20 minutes, there is nothing glamorous in this sexual perversion.
Casey Mulligan shows up as the sister of our protagonist. Not as one of the ‘normal sweet, girl next door’ types she’s played in other films, but as a desperate, really desperate for attention seeking little sister. It was certainly an interesting choice for the audience to get no backstory on these two siblings, one emotionally vacant and one in constant need for approval, but in my opinion at least, it kept the film from maybe reaching its true potential. If “Last Tango” is the standard, in that film there are little moments here and there where, if you don’t know, you (as the audience) can at least infer “Oh that’s why he’s an asshole.” The audience of “Shame” doesn’t get that luxury. For shame. (See what I did there?)
All that said, I think it’s a good film. And the performances by the two leads are really good. The film is rated NC-17, which I guess is its own reference to the high degree of sexuality in the film. But to me all that NC-17 does is remind me how with the US ratings boards you can blow off all the heads and chop off all the arms you want and get an R, but you have one too many penis shots in your film and it’s immediately X-rated. Another debate for another day…