We Need to Talk about Kevin, OR ‘Spite Diaper’
I only took one note during We Need to Talk about Kevin (or as I like to call it, Kevin, Seriously, What the F*ck is Your Deal, Man?). The note said “Spite Diaper,” and I think it speaks volumes. Or at least, it’s a great name for a speed metal band.
Okay, serious thoughts: We Need to Talk about Kevin is the kind of movie that perfectly exemplifies the disconnect between the film critic/arthouse crowd and the average moviegoer. Don’t get me wrong, the average moviegoer is generally a butter-guzzling simpleton, ready to clap his oily flippers together at the first sight of robots punching each, but he’s not always wrong. WTF Kevin (tired of typing the full title) is a visually interesting, meticulously-shot, well-acted, unique experiment in form, which accounts for all the hype, awards, glowing reviews, and appearances on best-of-the-year lists. Hip critics want to give it credit, because it gets right things that so many movies get wrong, or ignore completely. It’s cleverly executed, in many ways. What those critics don’t tell you, however, is that it just isn’t that much fun to watch. And while he’s too dumb to notice many things, one thing John Q. Butterflippers demands is entertainment. The truth is, WTF Kevin is an attractive fringe candidate. You wouldn’t want it to actually be president, you just wish one of the mainstream candidates could incorporate a few of its better ideas.
WTF Kevin should definitely be required viewing for anyone thinking of having a kid, much like those laws that require women getting an abortion to see their ultrasound first. Hey, maybe this police sketch of your uterus goo will give you second thoughts about vacuuming it! COUNTERPOINT: Here’s an entire film about what it would be like if that goo grew up to be a child who hated your guts for no reason and made your life a living hell! Choose wisely, potential mother!
That’s essentially the story of WTF Kevin, that Tilda Swinton’s character has a child, and it hates her, from the very beginning, for no apparent reason. It’s more compelling in the telling, with director (and co-writer) Lynne Ramsay relating the story through non-chronological vignettes that skip around, between the time Tilda Swinton and her future-husband John C. Reilly meet, to just after a tragic event when Kevin is 16 or 17, and all points in between. You’re constantly piecing together the story like a puzzle, using the length and cut of Tilda’s hair as a time clue.
The gist of it is, Kevin hates his mom, and has dedicated his entire life to f*cking with her. He’s extra close with his dad just to make her jealous, and acts perfectly normal around everyone else, so that whenever she tries to bring up Kevin’s problems, people just think she’s nuts, or a terrible person. He’s gaslighting her, almost from birth. One of the best scenes sees young Kevin with a perverse look of glee on his face, deliberately shitting up his diaper right after she’s changed it (hence the “Spite Diaper” note). Toddler Kevin does an amazing job staying creepily aloof and subtly wicked, proving that Andy Serkis doesn’t need to mo-cap all our child actor roles just yet. One of the ancillary benefits of Kevin being such an awesomely dickish little f*ckhead is that it actually makes you actively root for open child abuse. I applaud WTF Kevin for being the only movie I can remember to make me cheer for a mother throwing her 3-year-old against the wall and breaking his arm. (Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t cheer for it again going forward).
WTF Kevin is a lot like Shame, in that it essentially takes an idea for a unique, intriguing short and tries to stretch it to feature length without adding a twist. Tricks of form aside, it’s a one-idea movie, and pretty photography only goes so far (we get it, lady, you like red). Also, if they were trying to set up some kind of nature vs. nurture conflict, they shouldn’t have made Kevin so completely rotten to the core from the beginning. What’s the conflict? He’s clearly f*cked. No one’s going to feel like it’s Tilda Swinton’s fault if she smacks him around a bit. Like Shame, it also tends to wallow in grief. I like “dark” movies, but when people say “dark,” they usually mean darkly comic, strange, absurd, perverse, lurid. Mostly this is just dour. I’m not really that interested in seeing someone grief-numbed by a tragic event, sleepwalking their way through life. Numbed isn’t even a particularly interesting response to grief. Grief-porn is already a cliché in independent film and literary fiction. That’s what was so fun about Hesher, the fact that it was a movie about grieving that didn’t take the form of people staring sadly at the floor, or screaming to the heavens during a rainstorm. If you want to see a fun movie about grief, see Hesher. If you want to see a mostly-dour and dry movie about a woman who’s always pouting because her son hates her for no reason and shits his pants out of spite, see WTF Kevin. There’s Something about Kevin. We Need to Talk About Kevin. Whatever.