I Usually start off my reviews with something pithy and colorful to drive home the impact a film had on me. In honor of Dan Gilroy’s Netflix Release “Velvet Buzzsaw”; I’m just going to write in silence as I sit in how I’ve been moved, how this work speaks to me, where I am in relation to this movie and life itself.
Well, that was cathartic. Well, not really. But, isn’t that the point?
After paintings by an unknown artist are discovered, a supernatural force enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art.
That was the target. Somewhere along the way the target moves and never stops, and Gilroy never lands close. Filled with colorful, snobby, unrelatable characters “Velvet Buzzsaw” centers on Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) the globally known and prominent voice of the LA art scene. We follow our protagonist as he interacts with Artists, Dealers, Curators and all their kooky, posh idiosyncrasies we’d believe to be true of them. At somewhat cross roads in his life sexually, he’s conflicted with heterosexual feelings for a colleague Josephina (Zawe Ashton) while remaining in an unsatisfying homosexual relationship. We then follow Josephina and her climb atop of the social status ladder after finding hundreds of disturbing paintings left behind an old reclusive neighbor, she finds dead on the stairwell of her apartment building.
Ok, so maybe she’s our protagonist. Sorry about that.
So, Josephina is accosted by Rhodora (Rene Russo) in her home after hearing of a mysterious reputation she’s gaining with her representation of this dead man’s art collection she takes credit for finding. Rhodora kind of blackmails her into working together to feature the collective work and elevate Josephina to a partner at her gallery and milk the artist’s work for as much money as possible in some very devious ways. We later find that in the art world everyone is connected and working together to subvert and steer the commerce of the art industry. After more and more layers are peeled back into this seething world done satirically by Gilroy its revealed that Rhodora herself was known as the Velvet Buzzsaw(unmemorable) in the past when she dabbled and began her art career.
Damnit. Ok, so maybe Rhodora is our protag.. … You know what?
This trio of characters intermingle duplicitously hiding their true intentions, some more than others maneuvering and jockeying for fame, money, and status. Morf to his credit becomes obsessed with the mystery artist’s work which seems to have a supernatural ability at enrapturing those who gaze upon it. He investigates further into the artist now known to the world as Dease, as he is writing a book about him and uncovers very unsettling truths to his mental state, life, and tools he used to create his paintings. The closer he gets, the greedier they all become, the more mania and tragedy that ensues.
Pretty compelling right?
Well, like an abstract work of art, we have on display a lot of unique pieces that just don’t seem to go together. The plot gets more and more muddled as were introduced to more and more characters who liven up the screenplay but work to pull us further and further from the horror elements were looking forward too.
A good satire uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. Gilroy is heavy handed in his abhorrence for this world. So much so, I wonder if the film is so high brow it fails to win the audience over and can only speak to those in which he’s satirizing. We spend more time talking aloud existentially at one another seeing opinions and counter-opinions. Exploring how conversations by influencers in this world steer the dollar and who is vying to control those conversations. But, never getting the payoff of many of the sub plots going on.
If you notice were still missing an exploration and analysis of the horror in this film. That’s because there wasn’t a whole lot. There are a handful of conventional devices employed and (full pun intended) artsy deaths displayed that felt a little empty and not able to live up to the R rating it was given. With all the mystery and intrigue and building suspense in the story we have no resolve to the true nature of this supernatural force, goal, or reveal.
Kind of sounds like another Netflix movie that was similarly plagued with putting the cart before the horse in “Bird-Box.”
Our 3 leads in Jake, Zawe, and Rene work really well. There’s the right amount of pompous mixed with sexy and hilarity. High marks all around. The ensemble, aside from being well cast were a lot of fun too. Toni Collette’s Gretchen was a masterful conniving bitch taking advantage of her newly acquired status to pit museums and galleries against each other in exchange for greater commissions. She really portrayed a scathing depiction of what a lot of people like myself never knew, goes on with the Avant-garde. Throw in a neutered John Malkovich playing a character with serious artists block. Daveed Diggs, an artist on the rise trying to fit in. Natalya Dyer as Coco, a through line of the story connecting multiple characters serving as an assistant always around as first witness to the deaths that happen, which unfortunately never pays off to reveal something more nefarious. What you get is a wildly entertaining and grand sand box to play in.
Although if you’ve played in a sand box there’s a high probity of sand in your eyes and your toys being lost.
Velvet Buzzsaw is another Netflix visual stunner, high concept collaboration, that unfortunately falls flat in the end. More for its execution, and another instance where the parts are greater than the whole. Still a fun time and like art some viewers may be able to peel back a different layer that speaks to them better than this film did to me. A good but far from Great movie!
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 7/10
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gylllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette
Run Time: 113 mins