One of the rules of tradition is to break tradition
Just days before the opening of their new fall line on the fashion runways of New York, Roberta discovers that partner Camille is thinking about making the move to corporate juggernaut Fantasia. Seems that the young design protégé is being wooed by a soulless headhunter for the competition named Jamie, who uses sex as an introduction. Camille is being sold visions of popularity and mass acceptance while Roberta faces models and agencies abandoning the show once the word gets out that the creative end is shifting her loyalties. Across town, Lorenzo Mancini, an old school design icon, learns that his flamboyant life, filled with family, friends, and lovers, is about to unexpectedly come to an end. Hoping to re-connect with his wife and children, he relies on longtime companion Guido to help him make amends for the past, and to find a path for change in the future. Meanwhile, over at "A" magazine, Janice, the high-powered superbitch editor admonishes photographer Anthony (famous for his heroin chic styling) that he needs to reinvent himself, or find his career cropped off the guest list at all tomorrow's parties. Little does she know that heartache is just around the corner, provided by the sudden arrival of a sullen daughter she abandoned 12 years before.
This movie is a quiet surprise. Never hyped much beyond its appearance at Sundance, this is an intelligent and well-acted look at the cutthroat, and occasionally surreal, world of high fashion in New York. The performances here are uniformly excellent. Since the movie was created as a series of improvisations based on the plot outline from director/writer Michael Rymer and co-author L.M. Kit Carson, the entire cast deserves special accolades. Each provides wonderful three-dimensional aspects to their roles. Of special note is Leslie Mann as Camille, playing the talented (if ditzy) designer with just the right amount of stupidity, nervousness, and silent insecurity. Jeff Goldblum and Paul Sorvino are also good in polar opposite roles. Sorvino, affecting a continental Italian accent, fills Mancini with the right amount of bravado and pathos. Goldblum, as the immoral Jamie, is appropriately mannered as he attempts to balance his growing fondness with Camille with the destiny of devastation he knows his actions will provide. The plotting is never pat, even though we are dealing with such clichéd subject matter as corporate espionage, long lost family members and terminal disease. And there are a couple of story lines that set up complex situations between, say, mother and daughter, and worker and boss only to provide open ended, vague resolutions. While they fail to satisfy, they are also the exceptions here. There is a fresh and authentic feel to this film.
Two scenes deserve special note. One involves an afternoon discussion between photographer Anthony (Jared Harris) and his girlfriend Kelley (Mariska Hargatay). The other is played out between Roberta (Rita Wilson) and Harry Hamlin (as her companion, Hancock). Both are simple in their setup, but surprising in their execution and climax. As well as showcasing superb acting, they also exemplify the desire of this film to play with standard conventions and then twist them in unexpected ways. A great deal of this success must go to director Rymer. He does a wonderful job here of inter-mixing several story lines and over 60 speaking parts. He understands the visual as well as the visceral aspects of New York, and puts them to good use. He also knows a good cast: every actor here is a perfect choice for their part. But be warned, however, this is not a film filled with nudity and sex (even thought the cover art would lead you to think otherwise). This movie is about people and relationships.
The disc specifications are bare bones, but what is present here is very good indeed. The transfer is flawless, the widescreen picture clear and detailed. The color palette is especially well represented, which is only fitting for a film about the multihued world of high fashion. Unfortunately, the transfer is non-anamorphic, but this is its only drawback. The sound, also, is exceptional. The 5.1 Dolby Digital allows you to hear all the conversations that are happening in the group scenes, even when individuals are talking over one another. Aside from a trailer that wrongly sells the film as a sexy exposé (it repeats the opening shot of nude models, parts carefully covered, more times than the scene actually plays out in the movie) there are no other special features. Also annoying is the packaging that wants to sell this as some sort of Vogue meets vice, drugged out tale of sordidness. This couldn't be further from the truth. Perfume is an engaging drama, boasting great performances and expert direction; a heady fragrance in a home video world filled with pedestrian scents.
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