Apparently Magic Johnson is producing movies now. The things you learn from paying attention to the credits.
It’s a bit shit really.
Idris Elba plays Michael Douglas Derek Charles, the successful VP of a private equity firm in LA. He married his former assistant, Sharon and they have a two-year-old son and a new house. Everything is perfect. Then one day there’s a new temp in the office, and she takes an immediate shine to Derek. His life goes tits-up very quickly as Lisa’s behaviour becomes more and more extreme. Chickfight ensues.
Oy, where do I start? I didn’t really enjoy this film but it was too bland and uninvolving to even invoke my ire. The parallels to Fatal Attraction are so obvious as to barely need mentioned, and except for a few minor differences this could almost be a straight remake. The biggest change though is the fact that Derek doesn’t even cheat on his wife. Oops, sorry. Yarrgh. If Derek had slept with Lisa even once there would at least be some excuse that David Loughery could hang the rest of his screenplay on, but the man refuses to slip. But let’s face it, would you cheat on Beyoncé?
Yes, for it is Miss Knowles (or is it Mrs Z now?) who plays Elba’s wife Sharon. This was Beyoncé’s first acting job where she wasn’t playing a singer. She acquits herself reasonably well, but I doubt she’ll be troubling Jennifer Hudson for an Oscar anytime soon. The opening few minutes though could have been one of her videos: Mr and Mrs Charles arriving at their new house, glancing coyly at each other as they walk through the place before meeting in the empty bedroom, lasts around three minutes and is played entirely without dialogue. Luckily it’s not one of her own songs on the soundtrack or I might have just turned the movie off and made today’s column up!
Idris does a fine job (as usual) as a decent man caught up in an ever-deepening pile of shit, but both he and Ali Larter as Lisa are done a disservice by the undercooked script. Derek is too nice for there to be any real conflict between him and Sharon. When the rumours of his non-existent affair with Lisa surface, there’s a bit of a screaming match and Sharon throws him out but the next three months are condensed into a three-minute montage of his visitations with his son. Then he takes her out for dinner on his birthday and everything is hunky-dory? That’s just bad writing. Poor Ali Larter gets it even worse though. Here is a woman who fixates on this guy in the space of an elevator ride on her first day in the office and is suddenly in love with him to the point of delusion. There is no explanation for her behaviour, no context for her crazy, no backstory. She comes on to him then goes nutty when he rejects her. Her only character trait is her compulsion to have Derek or to destroy him. That makes her nothing more than a boogeyman, conjured up by a studio executive. Instead of an axe or a machete, she’s armed with a tight skirt and heels but there is no other difference. She even gets the typical open-eyes moment when you think it’s all over*.
Director Steve Shill has worked mostly in television, where he has helmed episodes of some of the most highly regarded series of the past ten years, including The Wire, Dexter and The West Wing (and all eight episodes of an excellent miniseries called The Kill Point, about a bank robbery in Pittsburgh, that featured several The Wire alumni in the cast). This was his first and to-date only feature. Unfortunately, directing episodic TV is like being a hired gun; there isn’t much opportunity to develop any individual style. There are echoes of other directors throughout Obsessed, some of the scenes in the Charles house bring to mind Polanski in his Rosemary’s Baby days for example, or Richard Donner circa The Omen (think Lee Remick and balconies), but if you were watching this film in fifteen or twenty years you wouldn’t be able to snap your fingers in realisation and say “this is a Steve Shill movie”. From the work he has done in TV I get the feeling he might be capable of more, but he doesn’t show it here.
As a final complaint, the music in the film seems to have been chosen with one eye on the soundtrack CD, to the detriment of any emotional response from the audience. A solid score could have done a lot to mask some of the other shortcomings.
When this flick was released back in 2009 I understand there was some discussion among critics as to the biracial aspect of the story. Here’s a successful black man married to a black woman, and being pursued relentlessly by a white woman, yet there is no mention of skin colour in the script at any point. Some have said this was a missed opportunity; that pointing some focus on this could have built some kind of drama where there isn’t really any to speak of already. Others applaud the filmmakers for not cashing in on this cheap shock tactic. That’s the side I fall on. Some audience members could have been made to reflect on this due to their own preconceived notions, but I personally don’t give a shit. By not mentioning it (assuming it was even meant that way from the start and not just a result of casting alone) Loughery and Shill have made it all about who these characters are and how they react to these events, instead of just about what they look like. Frankly, the film’s colour-blindness is about the only thing it does right.
*I don’t feel bad about spoiling that. Even if you haven’t seen this flick before, you knew what the ending was going to be. Don’t try to pretend otherwise.