So why is this such a big deal? Many actresses out there won't do nudity, and Neve may not even be the fairest of them all. But she is the one who has rubbed it in our faces the most by consistently playing whores, sluts and exhibitionists in movies where the plot would seem to call for nudity -- and connived her way out of it. Remember Scream, when one character says, "Here comes the gratuitous tit shot," and it cuts to Neve in a none-too-revealing bra? Or how about Panic, where she doffs her top in a key scene, forcing a sudden and otherwise unwarranted cut to a close-up of her face so that she won't have to show anything on camera? Or Wild Things -- even Kevin Bacon went full frontal in that one, but not her.
But it's been a long time since Scream, and Neve is not the box-office sensation she once was. Hence the quest to gain serious credibility again, by working with first Robert Altman and now James Toback. It's unfortunate that, nudity and all, this is one of Toback's absolute worst efforts.
Toback, the writer-director of such films as Two Girls and a Guy and Harvard Man, tends to display two major characteristics in his work. One is that there's usually a really fucked up sexual relationship at the heart of the story, generally involving cruel power games. The other is that he likes to show off his famous friends, so he loads his movies with cameos, in which the actors are often literally playing themselves. In When Will I Be Loved, hip-hop mogul Damon Dash does the main honors, but Lori Singer (remember her?) also shows up as herself, and in an odd throwaway gag, Mike Tyson plays a Mike Tyson look-alike named Buck. Toback himself appears in a deliberately ludicrous role -- decked out in African garb, the portly Jewish auteur plays professor of African studies Hassan al-Ibrahim ben Rabinowitz (unfortunately, not kidding).
The twisted relationship at the heart of When Will I Be Loved is the one between small-time con man Ford (Fred Weller, The Shape of Things) and spoiled heiress Vera (Campbell). Vera seems to pretty much screw anything that moves, and Ford screws over anyone that moves his way, so that works out well. After many wink-wink references to how firm and hard Vera's new mattress is (you'd think Toback enlisted Butt-head as co-screenwriter), Ford mentions that he happened to see some movie on TV the other night that he forgot the title of, in which a man lets his wife sleep with a rich man for a million dollars. In the brief dialogue that follows, Vera and Ford both coyly mention that such a thing sounds, hypothetically, like it would be an indecent proposal (again, not kidding).
Your heart may sink as you realize that this is going to be the plot of the movie. Eleven years on, Toback is actually doing his version of Adrian Lyne, long after the original Indecent Proposal had its moment of pop-culture triumph. Toback's big innovation is to make things even more cynical. Ford pimps Vera out not to Robert Redford, but to an aging Italian count named Tomasso Lupo (Dominic Chianese, who coincidentally appeared in Lyne's Unfaithful). Vera doesn't even need the money, but Ford is hoping that she'll kindly donate the proceeds to him since it was his idea. Needless to say, such things have a way of going a little differently than expected.
What's so utterly grating is the sound mix. The film features almost wall-to-wall Glenn Gould music (except when it occasionally veers into hip-hop), at a pain-inducing volume -- it makes some degree of sense when Vera is clearly playing it on her stereo at home, but less so when she goes outside and the damn stuff keeps playing. This is not necessarily a diss of Gould himself, but the music as used on-screen seems deliberately designed to wear on one's nerves.
Toback's dialogue does come alive in one scene, and here he must be given credit. Vera's initial conversation with Count Lupo, in which they talk about the proposal without explicitly talking about it, is very well done. The delivery is snappy, and the way things are implied rather than said has a classic Hollywood feel to it. Campbell, as evidenced by her newfound love of nudity, finally looks comfortable in her sexuality and role as a seductress, and though Roger Ebert is being a bit excessively hyperbolic (or just plain horny) in claiming that this is an Oscar-worthy performance, she does evince the potential for one someday.
So here's the dilemma: Go see the movie for Neve's shower scenes, or avoid it because the rest of the movie is a lame rip-off? Here's a suggestion: Playboy's annual "Sex in Film" feature undoubtedly will show a still image or two of nekkid Neve. Be patient, and save your cash for now.