By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: Love

As Haddaway asks, “what is Love?” Love is Gaspar Noé’s latest attempt to wind cranks, as the internet surely saw this week in the not-safe-for-work movie posters showcasing his feature-length “art” porno. Love is a film where a main character—an aspiring filmmaker—says to another: “I just want to make a movie about love and sex and sensuality in a real way! Why haven’t I seen that before?”

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“I don’t even know what that means!”

(No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!)

“No it’s not, it’s gross.” (Gets the people going!)

Brazenly, Noé, shit-disturber that he is, requests two hours of your time to witness his tedious art-sex romance. Real talk: it’s too easy to get worked up about the many reasons why Love is a waste of time, and it’s too easy to fall prey to the critical traps this film is laden with.

It’s a waste of time because, well, most importantly—does anyone really spend more than ten minutes staring at pornography? Okay, say you want some story in your smut—that’ll extend things, for sure. But what if the story is silly and the sex is …. boring? Or at least repetitive? If a marathon of dull porn centered a drug-addled love triangle sounds mind-numbing, that’s because it is.

Realistically, that’s all this is. Porn. That’s not a stigma, but with a narrative this clichéd (and somehow safe—a threesome is one character’s wildest fantasy), this film is far past the point of “romantic drama.” So replace your cheesy porno script with a bit of art-house sensationalism (impassioned speeches about sex and death and “love is the meaning of life!”) and equally bad dialogue, and you’ve got a fun way to spice up the Croisette. In 3D, naturally.

This is a movie where we watch someone ejaculate straight at the camera—I’m talking Mr. DeMille levels of close-up—and it’s just one-hundred percent juvenile. Because you know Noé is laughing at the squeamish audience reactions. He’s having his way with us, making the viewing experience all the more ridiculous. This may sound like something you’d say “oh, I gotta see this” to, but this scene comes after an hour of the sexual equivalent of paint drying.

Further immaturity is found in Noé’s self-insertion into the story. One character has a son named Gaspar; there’s another man named Noé. And on, and on, and on. That sort of playfulness is reminiscent of Leos Carax and Holy Motors—maybe it’s just French to be so cheeky?—but the autobiographical representation of Noé’s tendencies make this film far more childish than I think he intended. In attempting to create a new genre of philosophical pornography, he made something inane and monotonous and florid.

“I want to get drunk before Love,” I overheard a woman say outside Cannes’ Debussy Theatre on the eve of the film’s flagrant midnight debut. (A relevant Beyoncé song got stuck in my head immediately after.) Good advice: get drunk beforehand. It’ll help. See it with friends. Laugh all the way through. Giggle like school girls while wearing a goofy pair of 3D glasses. If not, you’ll sit there in silence. (And maybe frustration.)

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“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook

“Billy Wilder said to me, ‘Those of us who are hyphenates deserve a couple more beats,’ and I knew what he meant. As a director, you make sure a scene is not beat-heavy. You need just enough beats in the rhythm. Billy also used to say, ‘Whatever you do, is your mark. You don’t have to go out and impress someone. Let them look at your work.’”
~ Jerry Lewis