Modern Love Is Automatic

Modern Love Is Automatic


Reviewed by: Chris

Director Zach Clark worked hard to get the concept of this movie just right. “I wanted Modern Love is Automatic to take the exact same moral stance on being a dominatrix as it would on making a sandwich. Both are just things that are done in the course of someone’s day. They are neither right nor wrong. They just are. Modern Love is just as much a movie about a dominatrix as it is a movie about a nurse, or a mattress store, or pink and turquoise pastels, or unwrapping presents.”

It’s kinda hip, kinda trendy, kinda New York pop-tart-art. And enough would-be Warhol references to potentially make criticism look pretentiously uncool. It’s poster art pretty-pink. It’s fixed camera self-exposé. Jarring aren’t-we-like-Velvet-Underground in the background. And the odd Andy print looking down on the duvet. Snappy jump cuts into black and white. White noise between shots. S&M baby, let’s crank up some factory fetish.

Lorraine is a nurse by day but disillusioned, distanciated. “Make people better for a while. But they’re not. I mean, they just get sick again. Same thing. Different things. It doesn’t really matter.” Strong and silent, she doesn’t show much emotion. Lorraine fails her evening employment interview at Dungeon of Eden (lack of experience), but sets up her own part-time dominatrix biz anyway. Why not. A girl’s gotta do what...

Soon-to-be-flatmate Adrian is failing to get modelling work after coming top of her class at some unknown modelling school. Undeterred, she takes a sleaze-up-to-the-customers job modelling and selling mattresses. Mitch, her ex-boyfriend, is besotted with Lorraine, who buys a gun (“I just felt like it,” she says).

Modern Love Is Automatic has so much fun stuff going for it I was really willing it to be a better movie. Director Zach Clark has fulfilled his own remit and I suspect he has or could be top of the class at some film school or other. We just need to put a gimp suit on him and hold him underwater till his life depends on it. Or maybe blow coke up his nose till he’s so off his face it shows. Just so he can really taste S&M the way he tastes that sandwich.

The bottom line is that this would make a great short and has enough material for a feature. But it mostly lacks the balls it so shockingly hopes to wave in our face. And it doesn’t quite have enough blush on to compensate. Warhol could portray sex, drugs and degenerate worlds because he could live in them, whereas Zach Clark plays at S&M rather than believing in it.

Of course, it would be crazy to suggest that directors need experience of everything they make movies about. Warhol famously didn’t do drugs even if all around him did. But for all its daring themes, Modern Love is far too prudish. Catherine Breillat (Sex Is Comedy) would have made the scenes realistic rather than journalistic. And if you are going to use clever distanciation techniques to make us view the subject matter with Brechtian dispassion, there has to be enough guts in the heart of it to make it worth being distanced from. Otherwise it looks like practice reels from an art-school drop-out.

This is so almost a movie I want to love, and I hope all the people involved go on to bigger and better things. Maybe Lady GaGa in the soundtrack or offering artistic input? Yet even with its faults it may be the case that many audiences will be stopped in their tracks. Maybe I am jaded by a fetish party too many? A lot of people are going to like this movie after all.

So maybe I can tell you a couple of my favourite scenes. Then go and see it – or make up your own mind.

Girl-next-door Adrian is coming to terms with the fact that sex sells. After a heart-to-heart with her ex-stripper workmate, she practices in front of the mirror at home. “You’re gonna buy this fucking mattress!!!” It’s a lovely transformation and really made me smile.

Then there’s an end coda, perhaps the most successfully ‘Warholian’ scene (as opposed to stolen-in-the-night technique) in the whole film. It’s Nico-esque. Stumblingly beautiful. Has a last-piece-of-film one-take quality to it.

Modern Love Is Automatic and neither right or wrong but a bit disappointing. It’s visually cute and keeps you guessing. For me, it just needed to make me care more. I want the makers to engage more fully with their next project, either embracing a sadly vitiating puritanical bedrock or going for all-out subversion, which is hard for American filmmakers these days. But it’s still worth watching when you have nothing better to do and couldn’t bear to be seen renting that disgustingly depraved Lonesome Cowboys, or Pink Flamingos.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2009
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Risk-taking black comedy about a nurse who dishes out S&M to help cure her sense of alienation.
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Pink Flamingos