With Valentine’s Day looming, one would expect a multitude of reviews about love stories and ‘chick flicks’. Well, I guess this is my way of contributing to a holiday about love albeit in my own very unorthodox manner. Everyone knows that I am different and while director Johan Renck is themes of love in it, it is anything but a conventional one. “Downloading Nancy” is a tale inspired by true events, (take note: ‘inspired’, not ‘based‘) and the film is an expression of a cold, cruel world that is lived in by the main character played by Maria Bello (Payback, A History of Violence).
Nancy Stockwell (Maria Bello) is a severely depressed woman who has suffered molestation as a child and who is now struggling with her marriage. Her husband Albert (Rufus Sewell) pays her very little to no attention, he is always distant and more interested in work-he rejects every effort she makes to connect sexually, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Nancy tries to keep things together by consulting with a therapist (played by Amy Brenneman) but all to no avail. Nancy is about ready to give up but rather than end her own life, she hires a mysterious stranger whom she met in the internet to do the job for her. But fate takes a strange turn when the two slowly begin to fall in love.
The film’s narrative is told in a fragmented style with the scenes jumping back and forth to the present and to the past up till the film’s climax. Director Johan Renck displays a skill in portraying this depressing world that is lived by Nancy. I guess the film is also at heart a story about infidelity, escape and compassion. Yes, it may also be seen as a story about love and a very bizarre fulfillment. “Downloading Nancy” is a story that brings the emotional pain from the past, strengthened with the failures of the present. This is a story of a woman’s pure emotional pain further enforced by the one person she thought would ease such pain; never expecting the relief to come from unexpected sources.
Maria Bello is fantastic as Nancy. The actress is utterly effective as the film’s depressed protagonist. Her character is a ‘cutter’, she tries to mutilate herself with a razor blade, cutting her arm and thighs to feel and escape her emotional turmoil. I loved the way she appeared very real and not at all ‘whiny’, Bello expresses the emotions of her character through exercises in facial expressions, frustrated mannerisms and sighs. I found Bello’s portrayal to be believable that I had no problems buying into her torture. Her performance is matched by Rufus Sewell who is just so stoic and distant as her husband Albert. His indifference is just crushing as he coldly ignores her efforts to playfully pick a ‘food fight’ by the dinner table and insults her need to be made love to by ‘treating himself’ instead. The film has a lot of emotions going for it, and the direction does take the experience on a level that feels both surreal and challenging.
Infidelity is not the solution to the problems of a failed relationship, however, I see what Nancy is going through when she finally finds an ominous stranger in the person of Louis (Jason Patric). The two share is a different and odd type of togetherness that is based solely on pain and desperation. The scenes with the two can be very exhausting and sorrow but never for one minute did Bello appear shrill. The sex scene between the two is quite, in all honesty a little unsettling, as Louis combines some weird form of sadism at Nancy’s request. The one thing I didn’t exactly like are the scenes with Nancy’s therapist (played by Brenneman) that appeared a little forced and quite obligatory. I thought they didn’t match the power of the scenes with Sewell and Bello and even with Patric.
The film also manages to become unpredictable in the film’s last act as we see Albert and Louis finally meet. The scenes were necessary to bring the film’s narrative to its resolution as we see the exchanges between Albert and Louis. Albert is distant while Louis is isolated; so do the math, the interactions are going to be one very erratic and strong experience. The film brings the viewer to a peek at the lives of strangers but the scene just leaves something unsettled. I guess if the movie had a flaw is that it should have been more powerful than was executed. While the direction and the narrative had great ambition, it fails to bring everything into bear. The final scene does give its title its definition, as sometimes we know people better through their musings in a computer.
“Downloading Nancy” is an art house film that is for the select few. It is somewhat slower paced and its dark tone may just turn off some viewers. There is an abundance of human anguish that we don’t even see a sincere smile on anyone’s face. The performances by Sewell and Bello are one for the record books but it is something you may only want to see once. The ending also needs a stronger resolution. Despite its flaws, it is a good film but not something I think would appeal to most viewers.
Recommended timidly, Rental first is suggested. [3 ½ Stars]