When Will I Be Loved directed and written by James Toback, produced by Ron Rotholz, with Neve Campbell, Fred Weller and Dominic Chianese. 81 minutes. An IFC production. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (September 17). For venues and times, see below. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
As I walked out of When Will I be Loved, the latest oddity from James Toback, I heard someone remark, "Well, I finally understand what people see in Neve Campbell."
Was he referring to her performance or to the fact that Toback got Campbell to take the no-nudity clause out of her contract? Anyone who's been crushing on Campbell since her Party Of Five days will want to see a picture that opens with a really long shower scene. Then some other stuff happens and there's a lesbian scene. All of which will doubtless soon be posted to a Web site near you.
Reduced to its essence, When Will I Be Loved is Indecent Proposal without the Hollywood gloss. Of course, Toback, the writer/director of Black And White, Fingers and Exposed and the screenwriter of The Gambler and Bugsy, is lubricious, pretentious and prone to stuffing his movies with his own odd obsessions. They include things like black sexual mythology as it reflects on his own sexual paranoia - from Jim Brown in Fingers to Mike Tyson in Black And White to casting himself half-jokingly here as an African-American studies prof named Hassan Al-Ibrahim Ben Rabinowitz.
Campbell plays Vera, a rich, self-possessed young artist whose parents have just moved her into a ritzy loft. Her boyfriend is a hustler with big ambitions that include pimping her to Dominic Chianese (The Sopranos' Uncle Junior), who plays an Italian media magnate not unlike Silvio Berlusconi. This is the Indecent Proposal part.
In between and around this, there are miscellaneous scenes of Campbell meeting people in Central Park, including Lori Singer as Lori Singer. Apparently, Toback got her to be in his movie but didn't actually have a part for her.
This is what you love and hate about his films. It's almost impossible to describe them as good movies in any conventional sense, but at the same time they are perversely fascinating.
Toback's best films in a straight sense are two that he wrote but didn't direct, The Gambler and Bugsy. Karel Reisz and Barry Levinson are conventional directors who find the narrative line, nail the themes and trim away all that extraneous verbiage that Toback frontloads into his movies. You can see such a director looking at the long scene between Campbell and Toback walking down the street near Columbia University and going through the whole thing with a blue pencil.
The real reason to see When Will I Be Loved is Campbell. She gives a complex, compelling performance as someone who's underestimated by everyone she deals with. It's the arrival of a really good actor. You could say it's a surprise that it's happened in a James Toback movie, but then you remember Heather Graham in Two Girls And A Guy.