1 hour, 58 minutes
R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.
for graphic nudity, some sexuality and language
Nicole Kidman ... Diane Arbus
Robert Downey Jr. ... Lionel Sweeney
Ty Burrell ... Allan Arbus
Harris Yulin ... David Nemerov
Jane Alexander ... Gertrude Nemerov
Emmy Clarke ... Grace Arbus
Genevieve McCarthy ... Sophie Arbus
Boris McGiver ... Jack Henry
This fantasy based on the life and photographs of Diane Arbus invents characters and situations in what might have been Arbus' inner journey on her extraordinary path to becoming one of the 20th century's legendary photographers.
The film opens with Diane expectantly riding a bus headed, it turns out, for a photo-shoot at a nudist-colony. When she arrives, an entirely naked middle-aged couple welcome her warmly but insist she disrobe as well. The rest of the film is spent, in a flashback that begins three months earlier, when we find her so repressed and stifled that the first time you see her she is buttoning her buttons all the way up to the top. She's an ordinary housewife, married to commercial photographer Allan Arbus (Ty Burrell"Friends With Money") assisting him in his work and taking care of her two children. We also meet her overbearing, high-society parents, David and Gertrude Nemerov (Harris Yulin "Cradle Will Rock" and Jane Alexander "The Cider House Rules"), proprietors of the Fifth Avenue women's department store specializing in furs called Russek's. A new tenant (Robert Downey Jr.) with his faced covered and wearing gloves and a hat, is seen moving into Arbus' apartment building. Diane becomes unaccountably fascinated with the new arrival. After a brief buildup that emphasizes his strangeness, Diane goes up to the apartment, which looks like the lair of a fairy tale wizard, with the idea of discovering his secret and taking his photograph. His secret is that every inch of him is covered in rich, luxurious hair. He looks, in fact, quite like the Beast in Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast," and similarly, he turns out to be the most charming of men. More than that, he becomes Diana's host, introducing her to a universe of people who turn out to look exactly like the subjects of many of her most famous photographs.
Nicole Kidman in dark brown hair, has taken a role than many of today's top actresses would surely have avoided. She is rather convincing though surely not the most physically appropriate choice to play the character. And Robert Downey Jr, for most of the film has only his yearning eyes and his mesmerizing voice to use in creating a character that would be hard for almost anyone to resist. Separately and together, they reach a point where they can literally reveal their entire naked selves to one another, making us believe the unbelievable.
The daring young director Steven Shainberg ("Secretary") has created a journey of two soulmates that unfolds so naturally that you may begin to lose all sense of time. The magic that transpires between them changes their lives and inspires Diane's latent creativity. While this strangely poetic film is too far-fetched to be completely convincing, it is too well done to be ignored. Nevertheless, it will only truly entertain devotees of the bizarre and exotic.