I’d assumed that director Steve McQueen was gay — I’d seen him on the Colbert Report and found him pretty, uh, queeny — so I’d hoped that a film about no-longer-trendy sex addiction by a gay black guy might at least be smart and funny. This film is neither, unless you read against the grain, and I guess you could — those long shots of people fucking doggie style in their windows are pretty funny —
— as is main character Brandon’s bathetic emotional breakdown in the rain on the end of a pier —
— or if you think McQueen is pulling off a series of Brechtian jokes à la Kubrick. (Ironically is the only plausible way you should take anything this movie presents.) Stylistically, there are some similarities with Eyes Wide Shut. But the evidence for the latter isn’t very convincing, for me anyway, and I guess that means it’s not executed well, as it is in Michael Schleinzer’s Michael.
Instead, we get “sex addiction” (still not convinced it’s a real thing) as some sort of supranormal, non-contextualized malady of the soul. Once I saw this, I figured, well, he’s gonna have sex with a man finally, ’cause that’s usually the lowest a straight guy can go in movies like these. And he did! But I was wrong in part — the lowest he could go was having a three-way with two fake lesbians and making silly o-faces at himself in the mirror.
Shame (should’ve been called Shaming? Or Crying Shame?) is full of very predictable, perfectly male-heterosexual, perfectly dumb ideas about sex. I think its singular achievement is managing to convey so little commitment to the guilt its main character is supposedly feeling or supposed to be feeling. I have no idea what McQueen wanted the audience to feel. That’s what they mean by cold, I guess, or what so many gullible critics call an “art film”. It’s impeccably shot, though, and Fassbender is as good as he could possibly be. And as hung.
But really, whoop dee doo.