You’ve got to hand it to Nicole Kidman: she’ll march in where others dread to tread. Whatever the critics thought of them, you can be sure her agents were hot for The Interpreter, Bewitched and The Stepford Wives, and dismayed by Dogville, Birth and now Fur. A nice, respectable biopic about legendary photographer Diane Arbus would be one thing, but this ‘imaginary portrait’ from the writer and director of Secretary is quite another. For a start, it begins with ‘Dee-ann’ lugging her camera into a nudist colony where she’s promptly instructed to drop ’em.
Mind you, it’s easy to see why the role would grab Kidman. This is a film about a New York Jewish princess, a wife and mother in a successful partnership with her snapper husband (she’s the stylist, he takes the pictures), who quietly slips off the rails to become an artist in her own right.
The catalyst for this self-transformation – and this is where the imaginary bit really kicks in – is the arrival of a mysterious masked man in the apartment above hers – and with him, great clumps of hair clogging up the plumbing. Who is this curious man? Well you might ask. Turns out he’s a human fur-ball by the name of Lionel (a silver-tongued but unrecognisably hirsute Robert Downey Jnr), who introduces Diane to a picturesque netherworld of circus freaks and perverts. She’s entranced.
The name of this fairytale is Beauty And The Beast and for a while it casts an intriguing spell. But once helmer Steven Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have set the scene, this curiously inert two-hour movie slowly but surely slumps to a halt. It’s as if they’re so impressed with their own initial daring that they’ve forgotten to follow through. In the end, it’s not the poetic licence that bothers you so much as the turgid predictability of an over-determined allegory and a love story that scarcely gets started.
Kidman’s performance as a repressed ’50s housewife is fine in the early stages, but her wide-eyed journey through the looking glass is too reactive, too clean and pretty to be convincing – the film never even hints that Arbus would take her own life before she turned 50. (None of her photographs are shown either, as Arbus’ daughter would not allow access to them.) Still, Downey’s hairy beast provides some consolation...
Kidman wades in over her depth in this genuinely odd but disappointingly flat attempt to recast a biopic as a fairytale.