States of Control (1997)

  |  Drama

States of Control (1997) Poster

A provocative and honest journey deep into the world of a woman determined to buck the sterility of modern life.


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4 July 2004 | MichaelCarmichaelsCar
Playing house
Blandly set in New York City (which feels, here, like Toronto, despite on-location filming) for no particular reason other than accessibility, 'States of Control' is, in brief, a film—a film that aims to achieve the semblance of intelligence rather than any legitimate insight—concerning a 30-something woman metaphysically vying for control amidst a thankless job, a sexually impotent husband, and an erotically charged personal environment that tests her incidental celibacy.

I think the ambition to make an "intelligent film about eroticism and human psychology" existed before any of the content here, as I can imagine Zack Winestine, whose homophonous surname would be funny if anyone knew of him, fantasizing about the words "provocative," "daring" and "edgy" appearing as ad blurbs well before the first draft of his screenplay was complete. Unfortunately, while the film is indeed sexually frank, it is sexually frank in a way that is simultaneously coy and conspicuous, as if to loudly and proudly broadcast its adultness. The film is excruciating to sit through, as its characters talk and talk and talk, uttering the most obvious lines of dialogue as though they were groundbreaking profundities. For a film about sexuality and control, this is like dressing up and playing house. It is like a well-read virgin's idea of sexual frankness.

Yes, it also suffers from a case of first-filmitis, which of course is never excusable, since "Badlands," "Ivan's Childhood," "Citizen Kane," and "Ratcatcher" were all debut films. I personally whiffed the stale farts of a poorly digested Kieslowski meal here, with pale echoes of "Red" in the early scenes between the young(ish) Jennifer Van Dyck and the aging-but-intense John Cunningham, as well as in a few out-of-nowhere rapid tracking shots that signify nothing. One character talks about seeing Bergman's 'Summer with Monika' when he was fifteen simply to see Harriet Andersson's breasts, but ending up liking the movie, which is an anecdote shamelessly stolen from Woody Allen. We also see countless shots of moving clouds, a ticking clock, and two identical shots of shattering ceramic, all of which ultimately signify nothing other than first-filmitis. These are filmic malaprops.

In a movie where none of the lines sounds like anything a human would say, even a New York City human, the heroine is especially poorly written, and the denouement is ridiculous. 'States of Control' is a dire pseudo-intellectual film that is about, if it's truly about anything, individuals whose midlife crises are heralded by a frustration with their own mediocrity, which is, after all, the story of many Manhattanites' lives.

Including this film's author, it would seem.

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