Paul Verhoeven, who never really recovered from the delicious calamity that was Showgirls (although Starship Troopers was pretty good), tries his hand again at a female-empowerment movie. (Yes, Showgirls was supposed to be a female empowerment movie.) Unfortunately, he fails miserably.
Isabelle Huppert labors away as Michele, the owner of a company that makes terrible videogames. As the film begins, we see her victimized in a graphic assault scene that Verhoeven revisits again and again throughout the film. Michele takes an unconventional approach to the event—and as the mystery of the assailant’s identity plays out, the movie goes off the rails with weirdness.
I guess Verhoeven is shooting for satire here, but what he winds up with is a ragged, less-glossy rehash of ’80s flicks like Jagged Edge. It’s a bad mystery movie that’s trying to be shocking and even funny, but it feels desperate and trashy.
Huppert is a great actress, and she does all she can with what she’s given. Verhoeven, on the other hand, has basically lost it. Actually, he lost it a long time ago. Maybe another director could’ve made the strange elements balance out, rather than feeling exploitive and wasteful. I hate movies that revel in their cleverness when they are totally not clever. I also hate that the movie tries to explain Michele’s behavior toward her assailant as a product of her violent past. Oh, and you’ll guess the attacker long before the movie is half over. This is garbage.
Please note, however, that I am in the minority: A lot of people like this film. It has an 87 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, and in fact, it just won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. (Huppert also won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama.) Perhaps I’m just a big, grouchy baby going against the grain on this one.
Elle is being screened on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and Friday, Jan. 13, as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival; get tickets at psfilmfest.org. It opens on Friday, Jan. 20, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).