No segue, but I swear that I saw this trailer last year, or a couple years ago. Was it pushed back or something, or am I just really confused? I don’t know, whatever.
The story looks like it’s about a photographer who is very provocative and pushing artistic boundaries that not a lot of people are ready for until he’s given a chance by a collector. At the same time, he also explores his sexuality.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Matt Smith, known for PRIDE/ZOMBIES (2016), TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015), and upcoming films MORBIUS (2020) and LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2020). In support, we have Hari Nef (ASSASSINATION NATION ), John Benjamin Hickey (FOREVER/GIRL , HOSTILES , TALLULAH , and PITCH PERFECT ), Rotimi Paul (FIRST PURGE ), Carolyn McCormick (THE POST ), and Kerry Butler (CAMERON POST ).
Now for the crew. Directing, co-writing, and co-editing is Ondi Timoner, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Timoner’s partner-in-pen is Mikko Alanne, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. One of the producers is Eliza Dushku, known for DOLLHOUSE (2009 – 2010). Composing the score is Marcelo Zarvos, known for WONDER (2017), OUR/TRAITOR (2016), AMERICAN ULTRA (2015), and upcoming films THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019) AND BREAKTHROUGH (2019). The cinematographer is Nancy Schreiber, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, Timoner’s co-editors are John David Allen (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of) and Lee Percy (MOUNTAIN BETWEEN  and SNOWDEN ).
Overall, I have no idea what to feel for this movie. On the one hand, it looks like it’s going to be unapologetic about sexuality and normalizing it, which more movies need to do these days. But on the other hand, it also looks a little too “by the numbers.” Troubled struggling artist that no one understands until someone comes along to change everything? I’ve seen movies like this before and it could easily slip into being pretentious. I’ll give it a fair shot, but I’m going in both curious and cautious.
This is my honest opinion of: MAPPLETHORPE
Set between 1969 and 1988. Robert Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) is a struggling painter who falls in love with a young woman named Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) and live together for awhile. Soon, Robert meets Sandy Daley (Tina Benko), who gets him into Polaroid and runs with it. Along the way, he learns that he’s homosexual, Patti leaves him, and Robert embarks on a sexual and artistic journey, slowly climbing the ranks in the art community.
Hmm… I don’t hate it, but I have my issues.
The most obvious problem that I have is that I was right, this is basically just another struggling artist that no one understands story. In fact, a lot of this movie is kind of boring in that aspect. Robert starts off as a nice enough guy, dating Patti Smith, keeping his “unorthodox” life in secret from his conservative parents, lying in order to keep up with appearances, and with little personality on his end, it’s not compelling. In fact, if anything I was more entranced by Marianne Rendón’s performance as Patti. She had charm, which really uplifted her character’s run-of-the-mill sweet nature. She’s not in the movie long and doesn’t reappear until one of the final scenes, but she was a little more interesting than he was.
I suppose one thing that I appreciate in this movie is that Robert does become unapologetically gay and his sexuality is never addressed in a pandering way. I think the closest is when Robert’s father discovers the real, more racy pictures that he takes where he gets weirded out, but there’s no dramatic screaming or “I have no son” moment. We just never see this character again. For all the more annoying cliches that I was waiting for that come with a story like this, the movie shockingly never does them. On top of that, things do get racy. There’s a whole lot of male nudity, almost no female nudity, intimacy, everything that, guess what, gay men do. Thumbs up for not being afraid of male genitalia.
With all that said, there’s a very real argument against the flick that that’s all this movie is: dongs. If this were meant to be a self-aware gay-sploitation movie, maybe this would work. However, I don’t feel like that was the intention. The writing really plays up the troubled artist who never could land a stable relationship due to his constant affairs with other men. We’re supposed to take this character seriously. However, if Robert’s starting point in the story is too generic, then his character throughout the rest is not very likable. He has a relationship with Sam Wagstaff (John Michael Hickey), are supposed to be in an exclusive relationship, but Robert has a threesome with his male talent anyway. When Sam walks in on it, he doesn’t like it, and somehow Robert is shocked that Sam isn’t okay with it. I mean… when you’re in a relationship and you nonchalantly have affairs on the side, at least own up to it and admit to yourself that you’re not looking for anything serious, or be honest that you’re a bit of a floozy, so feelings will be spared or padded when they go south. Or change your ways if you want something stable. There’s just no surprise with Sam’s reaction and I don’t feel sorry for Robert for his loss.
It never gets better either. Robert, from this point on, is really pushy in his relationship with Milton (McKinley Belcher III), almost treating him like a piece of meat, treats his younger brother Edward (Brandon Sklenar) like a servant, dismissing his desires to be an artist, even trampling on his dreams, I just didn’t get enough of his humanity in order to grapple on to his character. Maybe Mapplethrope was really like this in real life, but if he’s the main character, we need more than what is given here. The only way his unlikable personality could work is if we had another character be who we follow, and shadows everything that Robert did, so we have something to latch on to. Like Edward, who is a much more likable guy. Or even a fictional character, just something. As is, I lost interest in Robert as the story progressed, and by the end, I just didn’t care too much for him. I wanted to, but the story never gave me a reason to.
Overall, meh, this movie kind of went in one ear and out the other. Aside from how unabashedly homosexual it is, it’s a forgettable story, and for an artist as influential as Robert Mapplethorpe seemed to be in his heyday, this flick does little to justify that legacy. I have to believe that the real man isn’t this boring or unlikable. I don’t hate it, but it’s not as interesting as it made itself out to be.
My honest rating for MAPPLETHORPE: a weak 3/5
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