What a waste that director Steven Shainberg, who last gave us the quirky black comedy Secretary in 2002, succumbs to a half-baked love story to drive its narrative in Fur, an imaginary portrait of the acclaimed late American photographer Diane Arbus (pronounced Dee-ann). Arbus’s tortured and conflicted life fascinated many, where she embraced the unattractive sides of life, exposing her very unbeautiful photography subjects (mostly freaks) to her uniquely frank gaze, while her marriage is falling apart. Fur is a fictional tale of how Arbus could have been in the eyes of well, Arbus, but director Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson “tribute” film is more often than not, a misguided and uneven affair.
Set in 1958, the beautiful Nicole Kidman plays Arbus, dutiful daughter to her parents (Harris Yulin, Training Day, and Jane Alexander, The Ring), who are snobbish rich furriers; and supportive wife to successful commercial and fashion photographer Allan (Ty Burrell, In Good Company). But before long, Arbus encounters and is helplessly intrigued by her mysterious neighbor, Lionel (Robert Downey Jr., TV’s Ally McBeal), who is covered in a blanket of fur (think Star War’s Chewbacca). Soon enough, as Arbus begins to spend more time with her sexy-voiced neighbor and his fellow company of freaks (dwarves, giants, armless musicians, etc,), she begins to explore her sexuality, voyeurism and a distrust of accepted norms, and at long last, falls in love with him.
Considering that both Shainberg and Wilson have such an interesting topic to play with, it’s an utter disappointment that Fur is not as morbid as it could have been. To infer that Arbus became a brilliant photographer because she fell in love with a freak is just plain wrong and unpersuasive. Moreover, if Lionel represents Arbus’ attraction to weirdos and outsiders, why does she shave off his excess hair before they eventually have sex? And if he embodies her inner demons, why don’t we see the dark visions that eventually compelled her to suicide in real life? Indeed, Fur had so much potential that Shainberg and Wilson could have explored.
Still, the overall compelling performances (Kidman is cool and calculated as usual, while Downey Jr. is seductive and rather mysterious), make Fur a worthwhile watch. The standout costumes by Mark Bridges (Magnolia) and score by Carter Burwell (Fargo) also assure that Fur is a first-rate production. Still, we couldn’t help wonder if the film could have been a masterpiece in the hands of a more revolutionary director.

Terry Ong
Editor's Rating: 
Opening Date: 
Thursday, January 11, 2007
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