The title of the film engaged me remembering the haunting photographs of Diane Arbus, those pictures of curiously aloof people on the fringes of society. Director Steven Shainberg has cooked up a seriously kooky fictional account of how Arbus became interested in photographing freaks and oddities. The explanation according Shainburg is more bizarre than her photographs. We are lead to believe that Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is strangely attracted to the hairy Wolf Man who moves into an overhead apartment. The creature Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jnr) in fact looks remarkably like Lon Chaney Jnr. in his were-wolf makeup. Lionel is actually an ex-circus freak now a wig maker with softly spoken but imperious manner of a Hannibal Lector.
Much to the concern of her fashion photographer husband (Ty Burrell) Arbus becomes more involved with Lionel and his odd friends who could have come from the cast of Tod Browning's "Freaks". From the modest house wife helping her husband pose models to independence as a photographer venturing even into a nudist camp for her art, the transformation according to script writer Erin Cressida Wilson is all due to "Beauty's" association with the "Beast". Things get a whisker out of hand when Nicole cuts a trap door in the ceiling so Lionel can visit more easily to the distress of her long suffering husband.
Nicole wearing her stoic expressions from The Others, looks younger and quite fetching in many scenes even getting naked on occasion. Robert Downey Jr. obscured by fur somehow manages to give his part some credence with just eyes and mouth, and has the pleasure of being shaved by Nicole in a climatic scene. The end of the film manages the only reference to the actual Arbus pictures by panning over the freakish guests in poses resembling some of her most famous photos. While I'm not at all sure this helps the Diane Arbus legacy, this film's dark Gothic images might do homage to the great photographer in a odd way. It's such a weird and curious offering it remains with you long after you leave the cinema.
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