Saturday 30 September 2023

9½ Weeks (1986)

I’ve always thought that pop culture peaked in the 60s and 70s and the 80s is a decade that more or less passed me by. I am slowly learning to love at least some 80s pop culture and I’m trying to catch up on 80s movies that everybody has seen, everybody but me that is. Which brings us to Adrian Lyne’s 9½ Weeks. It’s supposed to be an erotic classic. We shall see.

Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) works in a New York art gallery which deals in worthless pretentious 20th century art. Quite by accident she meets John (Mickey Rourke). He’s one of those very rich guys who does things with money that no-one else understands. He seems slightly weird, but he is rich. They begin an affair.

It is painfully obvious from the start that John is weird and creepy. And it becomes obvious that he wants their relationship to explore some of the more outré areas of sexuality. Elizabeth, being a girl who works in an art gallery, thinks she’s sophisticated and worldly but she’s as shocked by all this sexual experimentation. She goes along with it because she finds John weirdly fascinating, and after all he is rich.

This is a movie that is as much about the erotic appeal of money as it is about sex.

John’s sexual demands become more and more kinky and Elizabeth starts to freak out.

In a completely pointless subplot which we’re supposed to believe is crucial she becomes obsessed with the work of a painter named Farnsworth. His paintings are the kind of rubbish that trendy New Yorkers love so much.

Elizabeth starts to rebel against John’s increasingly weird sexual demands and wonders if there’s any future in the relationship.

So that’s the plot. Boy meets girl. Boy introduces girl to kinky sex. Girl likes it at first but then gets nervous.

The big problem I had with this movie is that I disliked every single character. I especially disliked John and Elizabeth. I just didn’t care whether things worked out for them or not.

Mickey Rourke’s idea of acting is to smirk a lot. He does manage to seem effectively weird and creepy, which is what is required of him.

Kim Basinger, like the character she plays, is all at sea. She gives the impression that she has no idea what the movie is about or what her character is about. She entirely fails to make Elizabeth seem like a real person.

This movie looks like an 80s music video, and it has about the same amount of depth and emotional resonance.

The only other Adrian Lyne movie I’ve seen is Fatal Attraction, which I hated. His career as a director was fairly brief and it’s easy to see why.

As for the eroticism, it’s mostly odd and creepy rather than steamy and kinky. It comes to life occasionally, and those brief moments are the only moments when the movie also comes to life.

I can see what the movie was trying to do. John wants to dominate Elizabeth but mostly he wants to teach her that she likes being dominated. Elizabeth enjoys this as long as she thinks it’s just a game but whenever it starts to get real she panics. Kim Basinger’s disconnected performance and Lyne’s shallow music video aesthetic approach prevents this interesting dynamic from developing in a truly convincing way.

It should have taken these two about 9½ minutes to figure out that their relationship wasn’t going to work.

Eroticism is a subject that Hollywood has always struggled with. European film-makers have been able to make intelligent provocative movies about sex but it’s difficult to think of worthwhile Hollywood movies dealing with this subject. Secretary is one of the shining exceptions, a movie that succeeds in every area in which 9½ Weeks fails. Secretary works because its director seems comfortable with the subject matter. 9½ Weeks fails because its director seems to regard sex as dirty and sleazy.

9½ Weeks could be fun to watch if you’re having a bad movies night. With enough beer and popcorn you’d get a few laughs. I can’t think of any other way to approach this movie trainwreck.


Randall Landers said...

I never liked this movie, and never understood what its appeal was. Unlikeable characters sums it up perfectly, and not erotic as well.

dfordoom said...

Randall Landers said...
Unlikeable characters sums it up perfectly, and not erotic as well.

It's the kind of story that is only going to work if we care about the characters. I think Joe D'Amato's Eleven Days, Eleven Nights which is very much a 9½ Weeks rip-off is actually the better film because the two characters are a bit more sympathetic. And whatever else one might say about D'Amato he knew how to do eroticism.