NOW IN THEATERS! Amanda Kramer’s debut, Ladyworld, announced an intriguing new voice in contemporary art cinema. Four years and two short films later, her feature-length follow-up, Please Baby Please, firmly establishes the eclectic filmmaker in a league of her own. Previously the head of a superb LA-based underground electronic music label, Kramer proves to be a visual artist of the highest caliber, fierce and impassioned. It’s an unholy combination of such disparate classics as A Clockwork Orange, Force Majeure, and The Warriors – but also like none of these films at all.
Susan (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling) move into a neighborhood run by a leather-jacket-sporting street gang. Rattled by a close encounter, wherein they witness a murder, the lovebirds barely sleep. To make things worse, Arthur experiences feelings of inadequacy, his already-flailing masculinity gradually deconstructed; he undergoes a sexual awakening involving a hunky gang member, Teddy (Karl Glusman). Susan, in the meantime, gets entrusted with an apartment that belongs to an eccentric public figure, Maureen (Demi Moore).
Conversations about sexual identity abound. Highly theatrical, dialogue-driven scenes morph into dreamy dance interludes, supplemented by a jazzy score that becomes increasingly chaotic whenever events reach an emotional apotheosis. Kramer skillfully makes it all fluid, thematically and sexually, as writer and director. The boundaries between male and female, genres, eras, theater, cinema, and music blur until they become irrelevant. Yet, touchingly, at its heart, underneath all the artistic embellishments, Please Baby Please is a relatively straightforward ode to being yourself.
“…[after] they witness a murder, the lovebirds barely sleep.”
Kramer and co-writer Noel David Taylor keep their tongues planted firmly in cheek as they navigate this sometimes-turbulent study of sexual power. They ensure that there’s a heavy dose of comedy to liven up the proceedings, from the heightened dialogue to the stylized costumes and outrageous hairstyles. The split-screen finale is as hilarious as it is poignant. Kramer, the auteur that she is, makes it all unmistakably hers: the “film noir meets 1980’s” aesthetic, the thematic mix of the political and sexual and deeply personal, the prevalence of blues and reds, the poetry of it all.
Amongst breathtaking intermissions – such as Susan performing a dance in a neon room filled with bubbles or a musical number set in a rose-covered phone booth – Please Baby Please is filled with sharply astute dialogue. “Am I enough of a man?” shouts an aggravated character early on. “Is my attempt to be more pitiful or obvious?” When another character inquires, “How does a woman get respect?” the answer arrives fast, “Easy, just be very, very boring.” Arthur sadly proclaims: “I love you, for now, Suse… but I’m getting very nervous about the ‘you’ that’s coming.”
The leads contribute powerfully, carrying the film through some rougher patches. Riseborough, one of our most intriguing actors who always seems to go for the unconventional project, is as unhinged as her hair and make-up, both rebelling against and embracing the norm – a committed, savage performance. Melling keeps up, counterbalancing her energy with a reserved, sorrowfulness. A moment involving a telephone conversation with his father allows him to go from one emotional spectrum to another with the ease of a stalwart. Moore gets a few scenes to shine, and Glusman effortlessly oozes sexuality.
If the film sometimes falls victim to its artistic aspirations, like being a bit on-the-nose and featuring some hammy performances (“I need a f*****g dime for love!”), the flaws are forgivable. The talented Kramer is still developing her voice, and it needs to be heard and championed. She follows through with her vibrant visions, unafraid to alienate an audience numbed by mainstream fare. Those seeking more adventurous, cerebral, inspired stuff will get a helluva kick. Please Baby Please is my answer to the inquiry: “Should Kramer make more features?”
"…adventurous, cerebral, inspired..."