david_bruner’s review published on Letterboxd:
My brain is addled by almost a week of wildfire smoke, so I might not say quite what I want to say, but I will try.
I guess I’m most interested by this as a literal performance of heterosexuality. Billy, in an attempt to placate his emotionally abusive parents, kidnaps the first girl he sees on the first day out of prison to put on a show, to try to direct everyone else and make a perfect scene that he can leave on. By all indications he may simply be asexual, but he also reveals some violent homophobia at the beginning that could speak to deeper unease.
Where the turn comes is when his parents reveal they didn’t really care that much about it in the first place at the dinner, but Layla becomes convinced by her own performance and really falls in love.
Because Billy is such a malignant person, and knowing what I know of Gallo, it’s hard to know if I think this is a searching exploration of trauma and abuse, or a misogynist fantasy where Layla setting herself up for abuse from Billy “saves” him with her love. It’s probably a little of both.
I also wonder if people would buy into it as much as I see they do if Gallo wasn’t attractive (I do think he’s very pretty), and I wonder what that says about who we give the benefit of the doubt and to what ends.
What does redeem this to me in some ways is above all Ricci’s performance. I think she understands what’s going on better than Gallo does. Ben Gazzara is also excellent and Anjelica Huston was unrecognizable in a good way; I was surprised by her range. There are some formal tricks that I like and the washed-out film look is cool. I probably would have loved this in college.
As a final note, though, I’ve never really experienced emotional violence on the scale and intensity that Billy’s parents visited on him, so I wonder if that separates me from “getting” this on some level. I’m willing to admit that.
I guess I’m just simultaneously repulsed and fascinated; I get why people are into this, I just don’t know what to make of it right now.