When Will I Be Loved?

There are two signs that appear quickly into James Toback's When Will I Be Loved that are bad omens of how the film will turn out.  The first is that during the opening credits, Toback (Harvard Man, Black and White) credits Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms with some of the music.  He did the same thing in Harvard Man, and it brings an air of pretension to everything.  Next, Toback appears as Hassan al-Ibrahim ben Rabinowitz, a professor of African-American studies.  This is his little bully pulpit to talk about whatever he wants to talk about directly to the viewer, in the guise of conversation between him and Vera (Neve Campbell, The Company, Scream 3), who is hoping to get a job from him. 

Vera is dating small time hustler Ford (Fred Weller, The Shape of Things, The Business of Strangers), who is constantly trying to figure out ways to make a quick buck.  His latest scheme involves pimping out women, hopefully to Damon Dash.  It's a very strange relationship.  Ford is always in want of money, while Vera's parents provide her with an endless supply.  She is currently decorating her huge loft in Manhattan.  One of the big problems with When Will I Be Loved is that nothing happens for a very long time.  Toback switches between the two, using classical music every time Vera is on screen, and then switching to hip-hop when Ford is on screen.  They don't even meet for a long time.  A story finally emerges, but it's not much of one.  Ford wants to pimp Vera to Italian tycoon Count Tommaso (Dominic Chianese, Unfaitfhful, Cradle Will Rock), and agrees to do so before telling Vera everything.  Tommaso goes to her apartment and the real fireworks start.

The paradox with this film is that the performances are spectacular.  Campbell in particular, who has decided to eschew big Hollywood films in favor of smaller things.  Vera is smart, and able to deftly control the situation.  Especially as the film nears its conclusion, it is clear that she is the person in charge, and that she is manipulating all of the events around her.  Weller is effectively annoying, and Chianese exudes a sense of creepiness and helplessness.  But getting to their performances means having to sit through a lot of nothing.  And really boring nothing at that.  The Ford character in particular really needs a slap down.  How somebody with his limited skills managed to hook up with Tommaso is still a mystery.

Toback has always been a frustrating filmmaker.  It's great that he makes whatever he wants, but sometimes he goes so far off on his own tangents that one wonders if it was worth it.  Was it really necessary to have extended sequences of Campbell and Weller walking around New York?  Or the shower scenes with Campbell that bookend the film?  There is not one 'good' person here, which is pretty interesting.  Each person is trying to use the other two for their own personal gain.  But it is not worth having to sit through Toback's weird side trips, including some strange cameos by Mike Tyson, Lori Singer, and Dash. 

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 21 minutes, Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, and language.

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