DIRECTED BY

Adrian Lyne

 

STARRING

Kim Basinger

Mickey Rourke

Margaret Whitton

David Margulies

Christine Baranski

Karen Young

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1986

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 57 Mins.

Nine and a Half Weeks / Indecent Proposal July 24, 2018  

Merida, about to shoot something with her chewed-up bow and arrow, and a disembodied voice, belonging to the latter, asking, against a flurry of animated images: “If you could change your fate, would you?” 

 

This question, presented by the actress Kelly Macdonald, no less, lingered as I watched Indecent Proposal, the hotly debated, Adrian Lyne-directed erotic morality tale from 1993. Since being put out by Paramount a little more than 25 years ago, the movie’s central dilemma has arguably become more famous than the film itself. It asks us: If someone offered you $1 million to have a one-night stand with them, would you take up the proposition?

 

Merida’s previously mentioned question applies to David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana (Demi Moore), the film’s leads. High school sweethearts who have successfully skirted the temptations brought on by the seven-year itch and other potential obstacles, we meet the long-married couple at a point in their marriage during which they have reached a major rough patch, though through no fault of their own. Because David is a doddering architect and Diana is a middling real-estate agent, money has never poured in. In their years of living together, they’ve had to be frugal, careful in their spending. Their sole splurge is a Santa Monica home in the process of being built by David.

 

Unfortunately, the nationwide recession that kicked the United States in the crotch in the early 1990s boots them too. In a matter of a few weeks, their already shaky financial stability is so rocked that Diana, often on the verge of tears, has begun making a habit out of asking things like, “David, what are we going to do?”

 

What they’re going to do, David eventually offers, is go to Las Vegas. They cannot lose their in-the-making seaside home; they cannot be ruined by the wobbly economy, as so many of their peers have. With $5,000 in pocket, David schemes to gamble his way to a payout big enough to assuage their troubles. Diana doesn’t question it. She can’t come up with a better idea.

 

The plan, however, soon folds inward. But while gambling away everything to her and David's name, Diana is studied by a handsome tycoon, John (Robert Redford), from across the room. He introduces himself to her and her husband; they get along. But time passes, and John discloses that he wants more than a passing friendship: He wants to sleep with Diana, and he's determined to. So much so that, after becoming aware of her and her spouse's fiscal situation, he offers to pay her $1 million to spend the night with him. He promises that no strings will be attached. Diana and David think it over. This could change everything.

 

The film handles the predicament impressively. While it is, at its core, louche, it is presented, by the screenwriter Amy Holden Jones, plausibly, and in such a way that makes us think about what we would do if we were Diana. Could a relationship really survive a moneyed, short-term betrayal? Or would it generate distrust, and potentially end the marriage being affected? For David and Diana, the repercussions prove themselves dire — divorce, at one point, is thought about. John, all the while, with his knowingly attractive smile and youthfully blonde hair, roams about the premises as the most dashing antagonist of the ‘90s-era erotic psychological cavortion.

 

Lyne shrouds Indecent Proposal in big-budgeted gloss that makes it all look and feel like a sexual fantasy. Typical: just glance at his Fatal Attraction (1987) or Unfaithful (2002). Or even Flashdance (1983), among his most famous works, which is satiny and glistening.

 

But the feature doesn’t work. It is efficiently made, certainly: Lyne is a capable stylist;

Jones’s screenplay is surprisingly steadied for a movie defined by such a lurid conflict; and the actors sink their teeth into this material as if it were a frosty, peculiarly sweet cream puff. Moore is especially good as a quasi-victim of lust.

 

But neither the passion nor the urgency of the situation is tangible. John is supposed to be equal parts deplorable and moderately tempting, but he’s just deplorable. We are supposed to believe David and Diana have a marriage so strong that it could survive anything, but Harrelson and Moore, who are good individually in otherwise one-note parts, are undermined by deficient chemistry: They come across as troupers pretending to be in love with each other. Audiences of 1993 didn’t much seem to mind, though: the film, likely because of its provocative main quandary, was a huge hit. I find it difficult to see why now — the feature is well-made but flimsy quasi-erotica for the putative thinking man.

I

never saw Brave, Pixar’s fantasy-tinged comedy-drama from 2012. Yet in some ways, I feel like I did. Since it came out in the summer, the period during which I usually, year after year, occupy the movie theater as if it were a beachside vacation home, I was subjected to watching its trailer an inordinate number of times. I don’t exactly remember what the movie was supposed to be about, but I can vividly recollect two things: Its Tori Amos-haired, valiant Scottish heroine,

1/2

DIRECTED BY

Adrian Lyne

 

STARRING

Robert Redford

Demi Moore

Woody Harrelson

Oliver Platt

Seymour Cassel

Billy Bob Thornton

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1993

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 58 Mins.

W

Elizabeth (Kim Basinger), a comely, divorced SoHo art gallery employee, and John (Mickey Rourke), a good-looking, taciturn Wall Street arbitrageur.

 

It was the first film Lyne made after his breakthrough, the dance opera Flashdance, and, like the latter, it was a much-discussed hit. (Only internationally, however: the feature only picked up in America after it was released on home video.)

 

But whereas Flashdance was loved for its uplifting storyline and its culturally ineradicable soundtrack, Nine and a Half Weeks was popular, in part, because it was among the few examples of mainstream semi-erotica, noted for its dependency on sex scenes as means to push the narrative forward.

 

Like Indecent Proposal, it is proficiently made. But in contrast to the latter film, Nine and a Half Weeks’s problem is not its storyline but rather a lack thereof. Pretend its sexual interludes (which, by all means, are effectively titillating) weren’t there and we’d be left with an uninvolving, barely there romance.

 

I suppose that’s the point. What drives Nine and a Half Weeks, which is based on the 1978 memoir of the same name by the Australian writer Ingeborg Day, is infatuation. Its leading characters don’t know much about one another, but cannot help themselves from indulging in a sort of relationship that could only be described as animalistic. The movie plays off the idea that some romances are more based on physical attraction than they are an intellectual or emotional connection.

 

That makes for a valid sort of entertainment — to an extent. Structurally, the movie consists of a piling on of sequences that gratify the truth that John is in control. And that the relationship is sadomasochistic in how it forces Elizabeth to be progressively vulnerable while John has the autonomy to navigate how things go.

 

At first, things are harmless enough. One sequence finds John feeding Elizabeth in a fashion that sexualizes gluttony like Marco Ferreri's Le Grande Bouffe, from 1973; another sees our heroine discreetly masturbating at work, inspired by what she imagines she and her lover might do in the near-future. But things get dangerous. In one scene, John and Elizabeth are almost killed by street thugs during an adventurous, late-night outing. (When they get away from the mayhem, they have sex in a rain-soaked alleyway.) Later, he blindfolds her and attempts to kickstart a threesome with a prostitute, which culminates in an outburst.

 

Nine and a Half Weeks contains plenty of sexual tension — and then fervor — and the sexually charged scenes between Rourke and Basinger are, without question, steamy. Lyne adroitly stages these moments; they’re often decorated with lavish furnishings, expensive clothing, literal steam. The film aims to be sensual, and it is.

 

But the movie is so underwritten that much of what it does well — which basically comes down to being tantalizing in an artful, cinematic way — seems shallow and overly dependent on sensorial stimulation. Rourke, who speaks in barely audible whispers, is a puzzle. And while Basinger’s performance is just shaded enough to convince us that her Elizabeth is an intuitive woman whose sexual fantasies are so heightened that she’s unable to notice her vulnerabilities, the movie is more inclined to view her as a fantastical emblem rather than a multidimensional woman. Since the movie is so stylish and arousing, it doubtlessly can be appreciated for being an encapsulation of an era that was much less anxious about sexual presentation in the movies. But keeping with Lyne’s filmography, it is better stylistically than it is anything else. Same goes for Indecent Proposal.

 

Nine and a Half Weeks: C+

Indecent Proposal: C

hen Indecent Proposal was released, Lyne had long been established in Hollywood, and was specifically pitted next to filmmakers like Paul Verhoeven and Brian De Palma, who were similarly synonymous with sexy, suggestive dramas and thrillers. The first movie Lyne did to incur such a reputation was 1986’s Nine and a Half Weeks, a voyeuristic feast for the senses that details the nine-and-a-half-week-long affair between