Tuesday, January 04, 2005

At the movies, part 2

Now, Bill Condon's "Kinsey" is a good movie. (But in all fairness to Kevin Spacey and "Beyond the Sea," Alfred Kinsey is a much more interesting character than Bobby Darin.) Kinsey, as portrayed by Liam Neeson, is depicted both as a scientist and a man in the film, and it's fascinating to watch his dual aspects play out. Kinsey is presented with a question he doesn't know the answer to, and works to find those answers, backed by substantive proof. Isn't that what a scientist does? But it's later revealed that it wasn't just scientific curiosity that drew Kinsey to this field of study. Thanks to his puritanical preacher of a father (played by John Lithgow, in what could be seen as a follow-up to his role in "Footloose"), Kinsey lived in repression. Studying sex allowed him to address something he had always denied.

Of course, studying human sexuality is a bit more complicated than cataloguing gall wasps. As the film details so well, the sexual habits and tendencies of men and women can't be simply categorized. You can't encourage people to indulge their every sexual urge and curiosity - sleeping with (or as Peter Saarsgard says with such venom, fucking) members of the same sex, or other people's husbands and wives - and not expect sociological consequences. Plus, there's an X-factor called "love" that can muddy up the whole dynamic. (And if that sounds corny, it's my fault as a writer. Go see the movie and decide for yourself.)

Condon approaches this material with just the right touch. It's serious stuff, but you have to laugh at it too. What's more funny than watching a total nerd (complete with bow-tie) suddenly get laid regularly because he's studying sex? And from a modern point of view, it's also hilarious to be reminded of the restrictions and bafflingly misguided beliefs people once lived with. But in the end, this is a story about a fascinating man, one who not only tries to bring knowledge to the ignorant, but realizes he's also helping people become comfortable with aspects of their personalities that society told them needed to be hidden. Kinsey fights for what he believes in, because he knows he's providing a valuable service, despite the skepticism, prudishness, and elitism he's faced with throughout his career. Liam Neeson depicts all of that in his performance.

Every actor in this film is fantastic. Laura Linney is great as Kinsey's wife, Clara. But that shouldn't be a surprise, because she's terrific in everything she's in (even a so-so movie like "Love Actually"). Think about it: your square husband has told you he wants to study sex and because you believe in your husband, you support him, even if you're more aware of the consequences than he is. Linney makes it very believable. (I might be in love with her.) And Peter Sarsgaard does his usual top-notch job, too. (I might have a man-crush on this guy. But I admired his work long before his full frontal nudity in this film. Really. Go see "Shattered Glass" or "Garden State.") His character approaches this field of study with an almost-predatory curiosity. But in the end, he might've lost the most. Maybe even more than Kinsey, he represents the arc of this story.

The only thing I didn't like about the movie? Neeson doesn't do his own singing and dancing as Kinsey. Don't worry, my dad didn't laugh at that joke either. So it must not be that funny.