Flames

Life as performance art. Flames is a found-footage style documentary spanning five years in a relationship on camera. Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell recorded literally everything (yes, sex). 

Most adults should be familiar with the stages of love: attraction, connection, limerence, commitment, cooling off, breaking-up suddenly in a rage (or is that just me?), but our self-absorbed filmmakers have added their own post-game commentary analysis stage including surprise and outrage about all of the above. Big grown-up emotions burst out as unearned exasperated orgasms of rage. They should have known what would happen, as adults you’re responsible for that information.

“…filmmakers have added their own post-game commentary analysis…”

Mostly they speak past each other. Then they in the present judge themselves in the past for speaking past each other. As they review the footage Josephine wonders why it went bad and the editor says “Because you consciously set it up to fail” and that is the one thoughtful, emotionally sophisticated sentiment expressed in the whole film. 

The camera is ever present. How did you remember to set up a camera in your darkest moments? They bravely reveal the unseen aspects of romance to … whom exactly? They breathlessly treat these moments as unique and noteworthy but anyone who’s been in a relationship has lived this to some degree or another. Maybe we’re all better off not knowing that this exact same crap happens to everybody? Keeping the private moment private might be the better idea? 

This comes off as the sexual and romantic version of “what I had for lunch.”  It also calls back a scene from Zack and Miri Make a Porno where the lead characters are having sex on camera. Mind blowing, shaking the pillars of heaven physical ecstasy because they have real affection for each other. But from the outside it’s pedestrian: awkward and clumsy. The crew looks on bored to tears and Craig Robinson comments that it’s the worst porno he’s ever seen. The fireworks are in your head. To translate it to film takes craft, none of which is evident here. 

As they edit the film they try to retcon and direct their own memories, perceptions, and opinions about the relationship. Who stage manages their own lives? It’s Synecdoche In Real Life.

“…the sexual and romantic version of ‘what I had for lunch.'”

Zephery really clicked with Josephine. They had a shot at a real relationship but they burned it up in the flames of narcissism. Well done everybody. However they feel about each other now, by the end I despise them both.

Taking a step back: the last half hour saves the film, framing the relationship and the story with narrative distance and objectivity. If you were stuck watching only the first hour it would be infuriatingly pointless. Looking back at a  couple of all-consuming relationships in my own life, I can barely stand myself from those periods of limerent insanity, it’s too awkward and uncomfortable watching other people in that state.

It’s too much, too public. Incredibly immature people living their lives on display as performance art. But who’s to say they are doing it wrong?

Flames (2017) Directed by Zefrey Throwell, Josephine Decker. Written by Josephine Decker, Zefrey Throwell. Starring Josephine Decker, Zefrey Throwell.

6 out of 10

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