We Need to Talk About Kevin Review | Film | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

We Need to Talk About Kevin Review 

Tilda Swinton and her problem child

Thursday, Dec 8 2011
Comments

In Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, Tilda Swinton lives out an urban bohemian's worst nightmare. Forced to give up her independence (and downtown loft) when a reckless night with schlubby photographer flame Franklin (John C. Reilly) results in an accidental pregnancy, free-spirit travel writer Eva becomes an unhappy housewife in suburbia, stuck caring for a child with whom she's unable to bond.

Baby Kevin is a terror long before his terrible 2's — in one scene, dead-tired Mom wheels the stroller out to a construction site, only to find that even droning jackhammers can't compete with the decibel level of her infant son's constant shrieking. But Eva isn't exactly a model parent, either. She makes little effort to hide her resentment over her lost life and coos, "Mommy was happy before Kevin came along" to her toddler's face.

Later, when Kevin (played as a toddler, child and adolescent by Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller, respectively) tries to force Eva to mother him by refusing to potty train, she teaches him violence by example. He's a sharp study: On the eve of his 16th birthday, Kevin masterminds a mass execution at his high school.

click to enlarge Tilda Swinton, bad mother lover
  • Tilda Swinton, bad mother lover

Related Stories

  • Tom Hiddleston Wants to Play a Normal Guy

    Tom Hiddleston can pull off extreme looks. In The Avengers, he strutted around in Loki's 2-foot-tall, horned helmet. In Midnight in Paris, he finessed F. Scott Fitzgerald's prim finger waves. And in his latest, Jim Jarmusch's vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive, Hiddleston lounges bare-chested in velvet-cuffed robes. The only...
  • Henry Rollins: Juice Cleanse Mania 7

    I have lived in Los Angeles for many years and, for the last couple of decades, in Hollywood. For me, it's just where I live. Seemingly it is for some a state of mind, a "way of being." I occasionally get letters informing me that something has happened to me, that...
  • Chris Evans Officially Grows Up in Snowpiercer

    It's kind of happy-sad, like watching a kid you knew as a toddler graduate from high school: Chris Evans, seemingly destined to be a boy forever, is now officially a grown-up. In Bong Joon-ho's futuristic snowbummer Snowpiercer, the Korean director's first English-language film, Evans plays the leader of a group...
  • Art to See

    This week, one artist debuts a dance inspired by weird tech-industry patents, and another breaks piñatas in public. 5. If you like art on a train Artist Doug Aitken is an idealist who's good at securing resources. He figured out how to put artists and musicians on vintage train cars...
  • Summer Movies Don't Have to Suck: 10 You Should See

    The phrase "summer movies" will never not mean broad, action-driven crowd-pleasers to me: I counted the days until Batman (June 23, 1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (July 3, 1991), and Jurassic Park (June 11, 1993) were released. For every Dark Knight there are 10 Prometheuses — and that's just among...

The movie's present day is roughly two years after the massacre, with Kevin in prison and Eva a drug-addled shut-in. When she manages to get off the couch long enough to get a shit job at a travel agency, she's slapped in the face in the parking lot by a still-angry townie.

Both Eva's waking hours and her dreams are invaded by visions of what Kevin did and of scenes from his childhood, which she fears led him to do it.

The film is essentially constructed as a long, associative montage, flowing back and forward in time at varying speeds. Mostly, there is blood or its symbolic equivalents.

At the start of the film, Eva wakes from a dream about the Spanish Tomatina festival (in which she imagines herself as a Christ figure wading through a red, tomato-pulp river of bodies) to find her house and car splashed with red paint. A wall of tomato soup cans is the backdrop for her panic attack in the grocery store; at home, she downs red wine compulsively.

In the film's second half, Ramsay often interrupts long stretches of flashback to briefly — and unnecessarily — remind us that, post-massacre, Eva is still trying to scrape red stuff off her windows and wash it off her hands.

As much as Eva suffers for Kevin's crimes, her complicity might go beyond parental responsibility.

Eva has such a tough time loving her son, in part because he is so clearly a reflection of her — which Ramsay underlines by repeatedly showing both dunking their faces into water, shot from under the surface. Mother and teenage son have the same angular, androgynous beauty and asymmetrical haircut; they're both pathologically narcissistic and obstinate outsiders in an American Dreamville whose kitsch Ramsay presents as grotesque.

In the film's best, strangest scene, Eva essentially asks her teenage son out on a date, as sugary doo-wop plays on the soundtrack, and the boy bites into a sandwich made from slices of white bread — with gooey red jelly in between.

Brilliantly edited by Werner Herzog's frequent collaborator Joe Bini, Kevin is at its best when at its fastest pace — when present and past, memory and hallucination crash together without distinction, mimicking Eva's point of view at her most damaged. (By design, Swinton's performance is never subtle; the character is a cartoon trapped in a haunted house.)

But late in the film, Ramsay slows into a more conventional flashback-and-forward style, fleshing out incidents and ideas we previously saw as fragments, making excessively explicit what she had already suggested and building to an anticlimactic big "reveal."

By treating Kevin's evil as a mystery to be solved, Ramsay only succeeds in making what was once allusive banal.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN | Directed by LYNNE RAMSAY | Written by RORY STEWART KINNEAR and RAMSAY, based on the novel by LIONEL SHRIVER | Oscilloscope Laboratories | Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre | Opens Dec. 9 for a one-week qualifying run; will return to local theaters Jan. 27

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Thu 27
  2. Fri 28
  3. Sat 29
  4. Sun 30
  5. Mon 1
  6. Tue 2
  7. Wed 3

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Around The Web

Now Trending