Our Bodies, Ourselves


Much in Dreaming of Joseph Lees pivots on pathological jealousy, and the film casts a jaundiced eye indeed—interiors and exteriors alike emanate a strange yellow aura at all hours. One might suspect radioactivity, but despite the late-1950s Somerset backdrop, this isn’t a Cold War allegory; we’re left to infer the twilit glow of doomed romance, though the effect is less Days of Heaven than the incandescence of the tanning booth. A shy, bookish girl, Eva (Samantha Morton) takes care of her father and sister and secretly yearns after a second cousin, said Mr. Lees. Played by the suitably dreamy Rupert Graves, Lees is a geologist who has lost a leg in a quarry accident, which only enhances his tragic allure. Having established Eva’s sense of duty to both her family and her fantasies, Dreaming then requires the girl to throw it all over and move in with a dim, clingy pig farmer named Harry (Lee Ross), though she refuses to marry him.

The fitful script ignores the social stigma of such an arrangement for its time as well as any character nuance that could explain it. Morton must vacillate between scenes of solitary pining for Joe and weary appeasement of her increasingly unhinged pigboy, whose deranged idea of guilt-tripping his lover mutates into a voyage of the damned. A third-act plot twist worthy of a V.C. Andrews paperback hurls the film off a high ledge, and the last scene reads like an admission of defeat: the bleak, beautiful English countryside, furnished with Morton and Graves, a lovely pair looking befuddled and awfully sorry.

— As the doting, dotty mother tells her son in Sixth Happiness (based on Firdaus Kanga’s autobiographical novel), the five essential sources of bliss are health, longevity, wealth, virtue, and peace; the sixth is a self-determined X-factor. But the boy—who goes by Brit, a name doubly ironic for reasons we’ll get to—faces daunting battles before he can make it through the average day alive, much less contented. Born with “glass-bone” syndrome, Brit (played from childhood to the present day by Kanga himself) doesn’t grow past four feet, has to move about in a wheelchair, and cracks a rib as easily as most folks crack their knuckles. Just as painful are his father’s shame and the cruelty of his mother’s friends. Kanga’s maladies grant him the objective distance of an alien scribe amidst his Anglophilic Parsee milieu (Mum can often be glimpsed dusting her pictures of the Queen), and the expression of his emerging homosexuality both enhances his outsider status and allows him to defy his body’s limitations. But both as post-facto narrator and homily-coughing child (“My bones break; I don’t”), Kanga pats himself on the back with one hand while outstretching the other for congratulation.

— Zoot-suited gym boys and anorexic bleach blonds frugging in a cavernous club out of Miami Vice, tracked by a camera that alternately seizures and passes out in a slo-mo stupor (that’s what you get for mixing cocaine and alcohol), while Jerry O’Connell barks into a cell phone, “If there’s pussy on the menu, I’m there”: This is the state of being single, white, rich, and plastic-fantastic in the ’90s, according to Body Shots. Tara Reid gets a few gruesome scenes as an alleged date-rape victim (the film’s most vomitous aspect is in positing this bloodied, terrified girl as one half of a he-said–she-said scenario), but more moving is the sight of sad-eyed Brad Rowe, now on Wasteland and fondly remembered as the cute intern on NewsRadio—he might as well be stranded on the hillside with Rupert and Samantha, wondering what in God’s name he’s doing here.