Cannes Review: ‘Under the Silver Lake’

There is a wonderful eagerness with which Sam — Andrew Garfield (“Breathe”) at a career high — accepts the miraculous nonsense of “Under the Silver Lake.”

His refusal to spend more than one perfect facial reaction questioning the bombardment of bizarre is, in large part, why director David Robert Mitchell (“It Follows”) gets away with the most unrelentlessly odd film of the year. It’s how he out-Lynches Lynch and out-Jonzes Jonze.

Sam is 33, white, horny and unemployed in L.A. He’s not just “working on a script” unemployed, he’s directionless without seeming to want direction. Or rather, he thinks direction will come find him, preferably in the form of secret codes planted by other modern geniuses in popular culture. When his mysterious neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough, “American Honey”) disappears as quickly and seamlessly as she appears, Sam is finally called to action. The universe demands he quit his day job of spying on his aging, topless neighbor and uncover what the hell is going on under the Silver Lake. Sam follows the bread crumbs that align so perfectly (the film more than earns this narrative ease) it’s a wonder he didn’t plant them himself.

He takes us through a version of L.A. that bears a striking resemblance to “La La Land.” Not in its choice landmarks per se, but in the way it constructs the city around cinematic homage. Extremely meta. But while “La La Land” earns charm from its referential existence, “Silver Lake” gets an added layer of unease. What came first: Los Angeles or the on-screen version of it? Mitchell has more than just Hollywood in his sights though, as Sam’s journey drags the audience deeper and deeper into the maze (sometimes literally) of the film’s plot. It becomes obvious Sam believes the world was created just for him. Beyond the codes and keys and messages in songs, Sam believes he deserves everything just because he exists. His undeserved want manifests itself brilliantly in the way he views women.

From the moment we meet him, behind a pair of binoculars on his porch, Sam is the leering male gaze incarnated. He wants women so they should want him. He wants sex so he deserves it. The infatuation that sets the plot in motion is born, more than anything, out of an unresolved sexual fantasy. Andrew Garfield’s specifically twitchy brand of skinny-guy acting has never been better. He is equal parts compelling and unsettling as Sam. It is as satisfying to see him succeed, as it is to see him fail. “Under the Silver Lake” plants a thousand seeds and reaps every single one.

Although inane, the trail Sam follows is airtight. Every twist and turn pays off. As he did with his other two features, Mitchell reimagines what is possible for a genre and pushes his film well beyond the limits of the expected. “Under the Silver Lake” is brilliantly acted, a perfect neo-noir and a biting social commentary. And it’s fun — it’s so much fun

By
Daily Arts Writer

Emmy Contender Riley Keough Calls Her ‘Girlfriend Experience’ Character a ‘Practical Girl Who Likes Sex’ (Video)

“If I was reading this pilot about a man, I would be like, ‘Yeah! He’s got swagger,’” she tells TheWrap.

A version of this story on Riley Keough first appeared in the print edition of TheWrap Magazine’s Miniseries/Movies Emmy Issue.

Swagger — that’s what Riley Keough has in “The Girlfriend Experience,” Starz’s limited series based on the Steven Soderbergh movie from 2009. As Christine, a student-turned-prostitute who enjoys her work, the 27-year-old actress embraced the role taken by Sasha Grey in the original film, of a strong, sexual woman unapologetic about her career.

“She’s happy with her choices,” said Keough, who also happens to be the granddaughter of Elvis Presley. “I don’t think she needs other people to make her feel better, which is very rare for a female character. If I was reading this pilot about a man, I would be like, ‘Yeah! He’s got swagger.‘”

As usual, Keough is nobody’s victim in the miniseries. “‘The Girlfriend Experience’ is about power,” she said. “Christine’s a controlling, selfish, manipulative person who channels that into her law career, and this new career that she seems to get more power out of. She’s just a very practical girl who likes sex.”

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Keough met with Christine’s real-world equivalents, “girls who enjoyed it and chose to do it” — though in one way, the real Christines were different from the character. “The thing I was most interested in was, ‘Do you have feelings for your client?’” she said. “And they did. It was actually very sad, because a lot of them had stories about a client who might have feelings back, but they’d never get together. There was a sadness that really struck me.”

But if there’s any of that sadness in Christine, the audience doesn’t see it. “It didn’t go into her inner dialogue or tell you how to feel. I thought that was a very interesting thing to do to an audience.”

The original film was one of Soderbergh’s more adventurous and defiantly indie productions, and the TV version — created and written by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, and executive produced by Soderbergh — takes a similar approach.

“The whole thing was very experimental and fun,” said Keough, who got her start in the 2010 rock movie “The Runaways.” “It was the format of independent film — tiny crew, very low lighting. I heard that TV is very rigid, you have to hit your mark, and I thought, ‘Oh, God!’ But the idea of this is to shoot it like a film. We got to do what we wanted. I think there was one Starz rep there the whole time, and they didn’t see a cut until the end.”

Like her grandfather during his largely unfortunate years in Hollywood, Keough said she is offered her share of lucrative but lousy projects. “It’s tempting financially for like 15 seconds, but I’ve never been in it for those things so I don’t have a problem,” said Keough, whose mother is Lisa Marie Presley and whose stepdads have includedNicolas Cage and Michael Jackson.

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