Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Color Me Kubrick (2006)
While his notorious reclusiveness allowed famed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick considerable anonymity, it also allowed Alan Conway, the aptly named confidence man at the center of the outrageous and sometimes amusing Color Me Kubrick, to come into the world. The film, which bills itself as a “true-ish story,” follows Conway through late-90s London as he impersonates the renowned director, using the average person’s desire to be associated with famous people to his considerable advantage. Despite knowing little about Kubrick or his films, Conway, a flamboyant dresser and eccentric personality, manages to extort money, gifts, and even sexual favors from his unwitting marks using a combination of charm, false promises, and outright weirdness.
Conway is played with a gleeful panache by John Malkovich, using just about every tool in his acting repertoire to create a caricature that manages to be as fascinating as it is preposterous. With his penchant for vodka, gaudy get-ups and young men, the character of Conway offers more than enough fodder for Malkovich, who uses his considerable talents to turn in his most over-the-top performance since he played himself in Being John Malkovich. Indeed, parallels to Being John Malkovich abound in Color Me Kubrick, as Malkovich the actor gets to turn the tables on that film’s pretenders to do a little imitating of his own, using Kubrick’s personality to achieve the respect and admiration that Conway’s self-described “loser” yearns for. As he says in one of his more honest moments, “I’m only trying to escape myself.”
Unfortunately, the filmmakers feature Malkovich’s offbeat characterization to a fault. So enamored are they with watching him work that they forget to go to the trouble of building a story to make his engaging performance mean anything. As rich as Malkovich’s Conway is on his surface, in hindsight we realize that we got to know nothing about him. Not only are the scenes where he speaks honestly played for laughs, but the film jumps right into its story, failing to explain how Conway fell into to being a con man or how he came to choose Kubrick as his alter-ego, all scenes that would have been interesting to see. Likewise, the film plays loose with what little story it has, allowing scenes to remain incomplete and characters to be introduced with little or no explanation. Meanwhile, the humorous lines the film does have, including a self-referential scene where Conway-as-Kubrick remarks that he'd like to cast "John Malkovich" in his new film, are rare enough that they do little to salvage the weak plot.
The centerpiece of the film is undoubtedly Malkovich's sometimes-funny, often-absurd characterization of Conway. So dominating is his performance that it sucks up everything around it like a black hole, to the point that the rest of story never manages to materialize, making his raucous rendering seem all the more excessive without the depth that would have been provided by a compelling narrative. Who knows? Perhaps Malkovich realized that the film’s story was severely lacking and tried to compensate the only way he knew how, or maybe he was just really enjoying himself. To say that he is showboating and overracting here is an understatement, but the undeniable joy he seems to be having while doing it is sort of infectious, and about halfway through the film I stopped waiting for a story to begin and resigned myself to watching his truly bizarre performance.
In the end, Color Me Kubrick seems to be one of those films that was more enjoyable to make than it is to watch. Malkovich is undoubtedly having the time of his life playing Conway, but his fun can only rub off on the audience for so long, and even though the film is unusually brief at 86 minutes, it ends up feeling much longer. The concept of a man impersonating a famed filmmaker, while novel, is not all that compelling on its face, and the film provides little in the way of story to back up its shaky premise. For his part, Malkovich delivers one of the oddest and most singular performances of the past few years, unfortunately for him it’s in a dragging and unexceptional film.