Eating Raoul May 18, 2017
Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul (1982) is essentially John Waters lite which takes itself much too seriously. Whereas Waters could find the absurdity in cinematic clichés, dipping his every satirical jab in a vat of lightheartedness, Bartel seems eager to prove that he’s the smartest man in the room. That his lampooning of Hollywood is the utmost intelligent, most poisonous letter ever sent to Tinsel Town.
But in watching Eating Raoul is it apparent that thinking and talking about the film is mountains more funny than the movie actually awaiting us. Every line is so drolly delivered and every instance of dialogue is so self-consciously mannered we progressively begin believing that the feature itself were not necessarily made for anyone to genuinely love except for those involved.
Though I suppose its reflection of Hollywood regularly preying on vulnerable talent to a point of near cannibalistic consumption is astute enough to get it somewhat far. The film itself circles around a working class couple, Paul and Mary Bland (Bartel and Mary Woronov), growing increasingly tired of their lacking financial standing. Both vanilla to their very core – they sleep in separate beds like Nick and Nora Charles, disapprove of anything remotely related to sexual activity, etc. – they scare most people away with their prudishness. They’re relatively alone in the world, though dreams of someday opening a restaurant keep them company.
But a couple random encounters with sleazy swingers and an exhibitionist named Doris the Dominatrix (Susan Saiger) causes a sort of light bulb to flicker on in the Blands’ heads. What if they, so turned off by the sex positive culture surrounding them, lured wealthy johns with batshit sexual fetishes into their home, briefly exploited their desires, and then killed and robbed them? Mary would act as seductress, Paul the killer. A locksmith cum cat burglar cum acquaintance named Raoul (Robert Beltran) would dispose of the bodies.
The idea seems generally foolproof to the generally emotionless Blands, and in no time are their plans set in motion rather successfully. But the cycle also comes to pose problems: Mary starts having an affair with Raoul, and before long is Raoul going through the motions of trying to kill Paul so he can run away with the latter’s wife.
All is told subversively, with the in-the-know, almost mocking tonality perfected by the aforementioned Waters. This mostly works: it’s intriguing to see such exaggerated, comically ludicrous material be brought to life with a straight face.
But Eating Raoul is never as impactful as it should be simply because it’s too affected to be as knee-slappingly funny as it could be. We wait for it to descend into camp or make some sort of self-referential joke. But such never comes to light. One longs for a couple touches of mania without such a thick lining of dry sardonicism.
But its satire is just pointed enough to make it worth a look: the jeers directed toward the Hollywood machine are too ingeniously rendered to pass up. But imagine if Eating Raoul were written and directed by, say, John Waters, instead of a guy who seems to have something to prove. B-