Main cast: Kate Winslet (Ruth Barron), Harvey Keitel (PJ Waters), Julie Hamilton (Miriam Barron), Tim Robertson (Gilbert Barron), and Dhritiman Chatterjee (Baba)
Director: Jane Campion
Jane Campion returns to Australia, land of her The Piano, after a foray into English soils in the vague and inscrutable The Portrait of a Lady. Holy Smoke! is set in present day, and for the life of me, I don’t know what to make of it.
It can be a comedy. It can be a dark drama about the psychological warfare between genders. It is neither and both, and I have the sneaky feeling the movie doesn’t know what it is either.
Ruth Barron is traveling in India when she joins a cult. Concerned, her mother travels to India and tells her that her father is dying (he isn’t). When Ruth does go back to Australia, she is thrust into the hands of cult deprogrammer PJ Waters, who will attempt to deprogram Ruth back to her normal self.
They isolate themselves in a lodge in the middle of a desert, and soon both seduces one another until one of them will have to give.
I have no doubt Kate Winslet is talented, and after seeing her earthy sensuality in this movie, I am not surprised that Ms Winslet has a large lesbian following. An intimate dance with a woman in a bar will guarantee to sizzle the audience. Her Ruth, however, lacks the zeal that would have convinced me of her conversion into the cult. Likewise, like 9 out of 10 movies he appears in, Harvey Keitel bares all, and I can only wish senior citizen males have buns of steel like this fellow, but his PJ also lacks a convincing personality. He is supposed to be a womanizing man trapped in a lifeless marriage and has women gravitating to him all the time. Most of the time, however, he just looks uncomfortable. Still, bonus points must be given for those buns of steel. Yummy.
The script is schizophrenic. It is one moment an erotic psychodrama, then it turns into a diatribe against David Koresh and company, before turning into a teen angst drama. None of the secondary characters remotely resemble human. Ruth’s mother is a dull woman who couldn’t speak above a timid whimper, the father is a loud idiot who is carrying on with his secretary, Ruth’s two brothers are infantile boys in men’s bodies, and her sister-in-law is ridiculously promiscuous. No wonder she joins a cult. So would I if I have her family.
Great Keitel muffins notwithstanding, this movie is a mess.