The second movie I saw at TIFF Wednesday was Una, from novice film director Benedict Andrews and written by David Harrower. Benedict Andrews is originally a theatre director having Una being his first venture into films. Una is about a twenty-something female named Una (played by Rooney Mara) who decides to visit a middle-aged man from her past named Ray (played by Ben Mendelsohn) at his place of employment. The terms of the visit turns out to be gravely delicate as Ray was involved in a sexual, skeptically romantic relationship with Una, when she was thirteen.
Una is an unfortunate misguided headache of a mess that becomes absolutely horrific with its senselessly careless execution of its subject matter.
Now it might be cliché and quick to say that the big problem about this movie is the theatre background of Benedict Andrews leading into directing, but sadly this is the case. As Una starts off subtle and quietly transparent with a European aesthetic (cold opening inside a dim night club), but then immediately displays it’s misunderstanding of its own tone, by having its title sequence open with a scratchy pop song over an uncomfortable scene of a thirteen year old girl staring at the camera, sandwiched in between deliberately frigid scenes with little to no music. This immediately exposed the fact that Benedict isn’t a seasoned director, and may not himself know the tone he is trying to convey with this movie. For second I forgot he was in theatre as that title sequence came off like a music video, clashing with the demure scene to follow. As the moment comes for Una to confront Ray, things seem promising as scenes are taken seriously even with the visual metaphor of a lone women walking into the male dominated atmosphere of a warehouse workplace. This all goes out the window painfully, as the confrontation turns into a suspense thriller execution, and as Una and Ray converse as it urgently becomes a theatre play narrative and direction, camera shots to signify a character entrance and exit and dialogue beats of exposed secrets and unleashed acting beats. Unfortunately it goes beyond that though, as the writing is as obvious as all hell. The dialogue explains every detail of their relationship in a yelling motion, and displays the confrontation in a way that probably wouldn’t be allowed during anyone’s work day to spend an entire day arguing without repercussion. Benedict treats the workplace location as a theatre stage for the actors to play with which completely steals from the realism of the story, with characters running around and even having sex inside the warehouse setting………..so misguided. All this coupled with an ignorance of subplots that are way more interesting than the plot at hand, and directorial emotional shifts that are too sudden to make any sense of, makes Una laborious to watch. Worse of all, playing with material of this kind in this fashion instantly takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter, the idea that an incident like this can destroy a person’s physical and mental well being fifteen years later. A movie like this just leaves one with shock, confusion and unrest knowing there was an allowance for a movie like this to be funded and completed.
Una uses flash backs throughout the movie to explain the past of its two lead characters when Una was thirteen and when Ray was a much younger age himself. In all honesty these flash back scenes would have made a more compelling movie, about a thirteen year old girl who carries an inappropriate relationship with a fully grown man. The acting in those flash backs are way more natural and the writing is straight forward and realistic and non explosive which immediately makes for a far better movie. This movie is like if you gave high school students who just got into Gus Vant Zant movies, the project to make a serious slice of life film about statutory rape without any guidelines of tact.
Rooney Mara proves regrettably to be only effective within movies that have a reserved tone and intention, but when faced with portraying actual emotional and physical stress, she just comes of removed and beyond the material at hand. As some say Rooney Mara is a mask that you can put your own ideals upon, but unfortunately in this instance, that face is just blank. Ben Mendelsohn handles the exertion far greater but definitely doesn’t escape the amateurish out pour of the script written by David Harrower.
Before the TIFF screening the director talk to us (with Rooney Mara quietly standing next to him) about how difficult and complex the subject is to handle and how in some way you have to be careful in how you portray it. So I guess this is how tentative Benedict Andrews and David Harrower could treat the plot at hand? This is a bad movie. Forget about it.
- Maurice Jones