One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 76
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
Adrian Lyne, the British-born director of such seminal, sexy hit films as Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, officially returned to the director’s chair with the release of his new erotically charged thriller Deep Water, his first film since 2002’s Unfaithful.
Adapted by Zach Helm from the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith, the celebrated author of a number of books turned into great films including Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Deep Water made its premiere on streaming platform Hulu this month. This came after distributor Disney announced in December that the film was being removed from its theatrical calendar and heading straight to a streaming release.
The unceremonious dumping of the R-rated thriller onto a streaming platform is a reflection of pandemic-scarred theatrical distribution practices and another example of the demise of adult dramas in the theatrical marketplace. Clearly, the dollars and demand are not there for rollouts to theaters when it comes to movies that aren’t big and loud and effects-filled and across-the-board seat-fillers à la Marvel Comics extravaganzas.
I doubt that any of Lyne’s eight previous features, beginning with 1980’s Foxes starring Jodie Foster, would have made it into theaters today, or would have even received a greenlight to be made.
Still, even on the small screen, Lyne proves that he’s still got some sizzle in his stick as Deep Water is a strangely affecting drama-thriller, if not the cultural touchstone that Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal were in their time.
Set in a modern-day New Orleans suburb, the film revolves around Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as a married couple, Vic and Melinda Van Allen. He’s a retired zillionaire, she’s a restless wife and mother who regularly gets involved with any good-looking younger man who comes down the pike. Vic is very aware of what his younger wife is up to—as is the entire neighborhood—and he appears to be quietly okay with it, the idea being that it beats going through a messy divorce. But that’s before a couple of dead bodies pop up around town. And then the devilish games the marrieds are playing with each other become clear (not mention complicated and weird).
Deep Water doesn’t find the 81-year-old Lyne firing on all cylinders—the sex and violence and rising tensions are all a bit restrained, though Ms. de Armas takes the wearing and shedding of slinky black dresses to enticing new heights. Additionally, the contemporary setting detracts from the thematic effectiveness of infidelity, a marriage gone bad, and the threat of divorce and how it was viewed in an earlier era.
Still, Deep Water remains a highly watchable, grown-up piece, with Lyne’s trademark visual sheen very much in evidence and a pair of excellent lead performances. It’s easy to see the attraction between former tabloid couple Affleck and de Armas, who met and embarked on a relatively brief romance when the film was in production a couple of years back.
Adrian Lyne was among a generation of British filmmakers in the ’70s that launched their careers making glossy television commercials before moving into successful feature filmmaking. Lyne has long credited his commercial work for opening doors for him, even leading Stanley Kubrick to contact him after he saw a memorable TV spot Lyne had directed advertising milk.
“He ended up offering me the role of second unit director on Barry Lyndon. I should have done it, but I didn’t it,” Lyne remembered in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. “I thought that if I’d done a good job, he’d get the credit and if I did a bad job, I’d get the blame.”
But Lyne didn’t have to wait too long for a filmmaking opportunity to present itself again. By the late ‘70s, at the dawn of the MTV era, Hollywood producers gleaned that the kind of stylized visuals and snappy editing seen in current TV commercials transferred perfectly to the big screen. In 1979, Lyne was hired to direct Foxes, about a group of teenage girls who get themselves in and out of trouble, lust and love beneath the nighttime glow of the San Fernando Valley. Though it received only a limited release to less than three dozen screens and proved to be a box-office dud, Foxes clicked with the critics, not to mention teen audiences, and Lyne was on his way.
Flashdance (1983) came next, propelled by a soaring soundtrack and dancing and beautiful people and the kind of visual imagery and breakneck editing reminiscent of Lyne’s ‘70s U.K. jeans commercials. Like Foxes, it also catered to the MTV Generation as it laid out its Cinderella story of an aspiring ballerina who works in a factory by day and dances in a sexy club at night. It was a huge hit—the third highest grossing picture of the year—and it allowed Lyne the opportunity to move in the direction of more intimate and mature storytelling.
Lyne courted a bit of controversy with 9 ½ weeks (1986) and its tawdry tale of a sexually provocative and increasingly abusive relationship. Considered to be too explicit by distributor MGM, the film was drastically edited for its U.S. release, while it became a box office hit abroad in its unedited version.
While not contentious like 9 ½ Weeks, Lyne’s subsequent Fatal Attraction (1987), Indecent Proposal (1993) and Unfaithful (2002) still got people talking, critics lauding and box-office cash registers ka-chinging. Clearly, Lyne’s striking visual style matched up well with tales of adult relationships as they endured some dangerous curves. Even his faithful adaptation in 1997 of Nabokov’s Lolita starring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain, a Showtime cable TV premiere that later received a theatrical run, generated some chatter around the water cooler upon its release.
Deep Water should get people buzzing, as well, though it arrived on Hulu with so little fanfare that there is bound to be a segment of potential viewers who aren’t even aware of its existence, let alone its availability as a streaming title. And that's truly a shame, particularly since virtually all of Lyne's past work remains in regular rotation on cable stations and streaming platforms. I expected a brief ad touting "the latest sizzler from the director who brought you Fatal Attraction and 9 1/2 Weeks," but nothing has materialized. Hell, they could have even hired Lyne to direct it!
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.