Monday, February 22, 2010

A Very, Very, Very Mild Defense of Robert Pattinson in Little Ashes

This weekend, because I'm a sadist at heart, I watched Little Ashes, the queer-ish tale of the kinda-romance between writer Federico Garcia Lorca and painter Salvador Dali. If I'm being honest, the only reason I bothered with this film despite the middling to poor reviews it had gotten, was the opportunity to yet again make fun of Robert Pattinson's acting. And, boy, were there opportunities aplenty. I think at one pointed out on my Twitter that the larger Dali's moustache became, the worse Pattinson's acting became. The early parts of the film were better because they played into Pattinson's in-bred awkwardness and inability to formulate a proper sentence. Once Dali became a surrealist/avant garde whatever and the character was forced to adopt wild gesticulations and speak like a madman, Pattinson became lost. For some reason, he highlights Dali's madness during this period with opening his eyes really wide and starring at Lorca for long periods of time. Literally, at one point there was a good thirty seconds where he didn't blink, just kept his eyes open like his eyelids were taped to his face while raving like a lunatic. Needless to say, it was all very embarrassing.

After the film finished, however, and I came to the conclusion that maybe Robert Pattinson wasn't as bad as he initially appeared to be. Listen, I'm not saying he should be up for an Oscar or anything; I wouldn't bother to call his performance good in any sense of the word. Rather, I think Pattinson's Dali is interesting to consider from the vantage point of how the quality of a performance can be judged by the context of the film around it. Little Ashes, as a film, is so shapeless and uninformative it becomes hard to judge whether or not Pattinson fits within it. Take, for example, the scene where Lorca and Dali kiss for the first time. Pattinson is so noticeably uncomfortable he looks like one of those straight guys in a gay porn who has to make out with another guy to "get things going" and you know would rather be giving his mother a sponge bath than kiss another guy. It is easy to dismiss Pattinson in a similar manner, but Little Ashes doesn't exactly help him out in any way. The film is so flimsy and so eager to gloss over multiple subjects without going into any depth about them, we have no idea about Dali's motivations during this scene. Is he uncomfortable with his sexuality, uncomfortable with Lorca, uncomfortable with intimacy of any kind or just a nutcase? I spent nearly two hours with him, and I still have no clue. Any of these interpretations impact how we consider Pattinson's performance in different ways, so it becomes Little Ashes's fault, in part, that his performance is so impenetrable.

Let's reconsider those awful final scenes with Pattinson acting like a mustachioed Bette Midler at her drag queen worst. Looking at the numerous interpretations that could be theorized, he may not be as bad as originally thought. If director Paul Morrison was intending for the whole movie to be quietly, almost non-existently, emotive about a doomed love affair, then Pattinson is an over-the-top freakshow unable to gauge what the film is trying to achieve. But, if the film was attempting to highlight the increased eccentricity of Dali and the lack of connection between him and Lorca some ten years later, then at least Pattinson was in the right ballpark. If nothing else, Pattinson is memorable in these scenes and more alive than any other character at any other point in the film. He may not be anywhere near "good," but at least he's entertaining (if only to laugh at the ridiculous faces he makes). All in all, I wish Little Ashes was a stronger film if only so I could gauge Pattinson's performance better and understand definitively why his performance is so off. With all the film's mediocrity and inability to commit to any perspective, Pattinson's performance will forever remain an unsolved mystery.

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