The MPAA must have busted out the thesaurus when they rated Jen and Sylvia Soska’s American Mary, giving it an R for “strong aberrant violent content.” The R is deserved, but “aberrant” is a curious choice of words, as if they couldn’t bring themselves to use “icky” or “squirminess-inducing.” There’s certainly plenty of icky squirminess to be induced by this undercooked tale of a medical student (Ginger Snaps‘ Katharine Isabelle) who becomes a celebrity in an underworld of extreme plastic surgery, body modification, and torture aficionados. It’s like Dee Snider’s Strangeland with more brains—but not too many more, as the story is unevenly paced, certain character motivations are vague (especially Antonio Cupo’s Billy), and the subculture it builds never feels convincing. This Canadian film seems to be trying to make some points about body dysphoria or modern fame, but the one point it’s absolutely sure of is that Isabelle is a startlingly beautiful woman with a well-proportioned (and exploitable) body. Beyond that, American Mary is a mostly gore-and-freakiness delivery system, and that’s fine if it’s your thing, especially if you don’t mind a frustrating plot that doesn’t conclude so much as suture itself shut. And maybe that’s even appropriate, but in the end, the only aberration is the storytelling.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 30, 2013