June 26, 2008

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Savage Grace (NR)
Julianne Moore offers an extremely creepy portrait of a wealthy society woman and her smothering relationship with her son in Savage Grace, a movie based on the true story of the Baekeland family, the heirs to the Bakelite fortune.

The what? You know, that sort of plastic-ish jewelry from the 1930s. See the display cabinet of any antiques shop for examples.

Barbara (Moore) was married to Brooks Baekeland (Stephan Dillane), grandson of the man who invented Bakelite. They were, professionally, a rich couple. They wore nice clothes, ate dinner at the right places, read books and, at least in Barbara’s case, had some vague connection to art. They also had a son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), who lived a life of extreme leisure following his parents from one vacation spot to another. Barbara seems, throughout the Baekeland marriage, desperately interested in moving up in society. She also seems crazy. The second thing can make the first thing difficult.

Then there’s her disappointment at Tony’s likely homosexuality and at Brooks, who might be gay or maybe bisexual but in any event doesn’t really seem to like Barbara all that much. And into this stew of sexual confusion and Freudian boundary-crossing bring a fetching Spanish girl, a fetching Spanish guy and an older gay man whose job it is to act as society escort to divorced or otherwise abandoned-by-their-husbands society women.

Heat and serve.

Moore is pretty good at showing crumbling wealth and fading aspiration in a way that makes you wish for a movie that was just her Barbara and Annette Bening’s Deidre from Running with Scissors having some kind of crazy, mess-up-your-sons, bad-mother throwdown. Moore’s Barbara is a distillation of the rotting decadent wealth that soaks the screen, of the kind of bad behavior all the characters exhibit when (as one says) they have enough money not to live with the consequences of their actions.

And for giving you the sheer Norman-Bates heebie jeebies, Redmayne’s Tony isn’t so bad either.

Like a hideous but fascinating 1970s print, these characters can draw you in, hold your attention and make you watch them. They can’t, however, fill the whole movie, nor can the inevitable shocking things that happen. Even a really hearty “ewwwww” can only last so long. C

Not rated. Savage Grace is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by First Take IFC films. It is playing at theaters in the Boston area and currently available on Comcast OnDemand.