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Savage Grace: Trainwreck Gawkery

Julianne Moore, wasted again

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Savage Grace
Directed by Tom Kalin
IFC Films
Opens May 30, IFC Center and Clearview 62nd and Broadway

A lip-smacking episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Depraved, designed more for train-wreck gawkery than psychological illumination, Tom Kalin's garish melodrama applies icehouse style to hothouse material: the 1972 murder of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland, former wife of the heir to the Bakelite fortune, by the grown son she'd taken to fucking to cure his homosexuality. From the life-preserver clinging of his culture-vulture mom (Julianne Moore) to the contempt of his aloof playboy dad (Stephen Dillane), young Antony Baekeland was molded from birth into a sexually confused, neurotic mama's boy (played as an adult by Eddie Redmayne, who at his unhealthiest resembles Alan Colmes after a Queer Eye makeover). His standing as his mother's de facto husband led inevitably to incest, violence, and a grimly redundant self-suffocation; in Kalin and screenwriter Howard A. Rodman's hands, his downfall becomes a glossy travelogue, with stops in Paris (where his mom has Antony favor the guests with a reading from the Marquis de Sade), Majorca (where he and mom wake up on either side of her polymorphous walker, Hugh Dancy), and London (where a fateful kitchen knife awaits). This marks Kalin's first feature in the 15 years since his queer-cinema landmark Swoon, a grave, provocative retelling of the Leopold and Loeb case that refused to explain the killers away as victims of mass gay panic. This, by contrast, is a tawdry nighttime soap that marvels without insight at its characters' despicable behavior: It squanders a major performance by Moore, who rips into Barbara's confrontational mania, maternal perversity, and all-consuming need with nail-clawing fury and no small amount of malicious humor—as when she tries to quiet her increasingly agitated son/handjob recipient with a sharp "Inside voice!"

 
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