The Vicious Kind (2009) dir. Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Adam Scott, Brittany Snow, Alex Frost, J.K. Simmons
Lee Toland Krieger’s slice of rural melancholy is a mix of David Gordon Green and Neil La Bute. In fact, Neil La Bute is credited as executive producer. Unfortunately unlike La Bute’s or Green’s films this intimate four-hander fails to find the truth in character, instead relying of Hollywood characterizations to entertain us.
Krieger’s protagonist is a petulant son-of-a-bitch Caleb (Adam Scott) who is introduced with an extreme misogynist hatred of women. It’s clear he’s had women troubles in life - from the death of his mother to his former girlfriend who cheated on him. As a result he’s fallen back into a funk of self-destruction and self-loathing.
Enter Caleb’s brother Peter (Alex Frost) who is returning home from college with his new girlfriend Emma (Brittany). Immediately Caleb is confrontational with the poor girl. Peter doesn’t seem too concerned, ‘oh, it’s just Caleb, he’s like that’. Emma doesn’t seem to care too much when Caleb calls her a whore and physically manhandles her in a grocery store. Emma’s cool with this behaviour because she’s actually falling in love with him and he with her. Sexual tension lead up to events which resolve deep-rooted family conflict.
Krieger’s portrayal of Caleb as an anti-hero who smokes and drinks and gets away with his loathsome behaviour rings as false or at least some kind of out of place Tennessee Williams character. In fact the prevalence of Krieger’s smoking is so in our faces it’s distracting. Caleb is shot to look very cool smoking. Krieger uses slo-mo close-ups of his zippo lighting up, and often has actor Adam Scott speaking his dialogue with the obligatory cig dangling from his mouth. I think the film is supposed to take place in the 80’s, which seems to be an arbitrary explanation for all the smoking.
We would never notice this superfluous bit of actors’ business if the dilemmas, actions and reactions of the characters rang true. Unfortunately they don’t. There’s an aggravating theatrical quality to the story and conflict. We’re meant to believe that Emma would fall in love with Caleb because he of his Marlon Brando/Stanley Kowalski bravado. Girls like the bad boys right?
All real world logic is disregarded in the orchestration of the final act. Warning, spoilers ahead….After Emma and Peter fail to lose their virginity with each other, Emma retreats to smoking (again!) outside, where Caleb seems to sense Emma’s call for help. He arrives at the house with no explanation. Their passion ignites and they have maddening wall pounding sex in the spare bedroom without anyone noticing.
I kept thinking of films like "The Wrestler", "Happy Go Lucky" and even "Humpday" which are bringing a fresh sense of realism to familiar stories and characters. "The Vicious Kind" feels strangely out of touch with reality.