Some Velvet Morning
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute
Like much of Neil LaBute’s work, Some Velvet Morning takes on a highly discomforting situation and pushes it to extremes. It is a frustrating film in ways both good and bad. LaBute’s execution of a two-person drama is a painstaking exercise in building anxiety, but as the tension slows ramps up, some minds are bound to wander.
Fred (Stanley Tucci) appears on Velvet’s (Alice Eve) doorstep one morning with an armful of luggage in tow. He announces that he has finally left his wife in order to be with her, a prospect Velvet appears less than thrilled about. What follows is a nasty contest of words and wills, one from which Velvet simply wants to extricate herself and Fred wants to resolve with dirty sex.
Over the course of their dispute, we learn that the lovers’ affair ended years ago, and Velvet asked Fred to stay away from her. But Fred boasts such an extraordinary ego that his desire to possess Velvet, an escort hoping to go straight, stems from a gross sense of entitlement more so than any honest affection. No one could miss the irony as Fred suggests leaving his wife is the first selfish thing he’s ever done.
Velvet makes several polite attempts to excuse herself, but Fred draws her back into his contentious game with petulant baiting and sometimes by force. The stripped down scriptwork recreates that same trapped feeling for the audience. There are a few moments of reminiscent rambling and the obligatory exposition, but descriptive dialogue is at a minimum. LaBute essentially requires that all attention stay on the squabbling couple by refusing to provide any anecdotal escapes. Fred and Velvet’s verbal exchanges aren’t burdened by elaborate language, but unfortunately, they are also tediously cyclical. Fred’s favorite way of knocking Velvet off her game is to suggest she perform fellatio, and Velvet grapples for the upper hand the only way she knows how, by reminding Fred he’s not the only man in her life. The argument seems stuck in a perpetual stalemate until a final act of unthinkable cruelty settles it.
It’s a huge responsibility to thrust on two actors who have nothing to rely on but each other to keep a thin premise moving forward. Fortunately, the pair of actors cast here proves superbly equipped for the task. Stanley Tucci is nothing short of monstrous in an insidiously repulsive role of an abusive lover, a man so arrogant he can make you hate him with a smirk. One might question why a story tailor-made for the stage deserves the cinematic treatment, and the answer is Alice Eve’s eyes. One of her distant gazes projects a whole story completely of her own making and can alter the meaning of an entire scene without the need for speech.
Some Velvet Morning presents several intriguing talking points that are most rewarding in retrospect, especially after a highly telegraphed twist ending that unravels everything that proceeds it. At the same time, it probably overestimates the appeal of its characters’ depraved attitudes. It might be one of those movies that is more enjoyable to talk about later than to actually sit through.