Film

Diane Arbus Killed Herself in '71

(Probably So She Wouldn't Have to See Fur)

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Fur bills itself not as a factual biopic of legendary photographer Diane Arbus, but as a "tribute" to her piercing vision. And it's funny, because I could think of a million ways to salute Arbus, and none of them include Nicole Kidman jacking off a Wookiee with shaving cream.

Arbus was one of the seminal photographers of the 1960s, who created unflinching portraits of transvestites, nudists, giants, and other assorted outcasts before her 1971 suicide. Leaving behind a Sylvia Plath-y legacy, her life story was ripe for a romanti-tragic biopic. Fur ain't it.

Director Steven Shainberg (Secretary) has decided to fictionalize a chapter of Arbus' life, pre-fame, and he misses the mark so sorely that the film is laughably fascinating. Arbus (Kidman) was born into a Manhattan family who made their fortune in furs, and she assisted her husband Allan in photographing mink coats and fox scarves for newspaper ads. Of course, she's unfulfilled creatively and spiritually, and life seems like a bourgeois prison until a man covered head to toe in long, flowing fur (Robert Downey Jr.) moves in upstairs, infusing the building with mystery and a sexy ape-man electricity. Diane and Lionel become instant BFFs, culminating in one of the most unintentionally funny scenes in film history, in which Diane shaves Chewbacca down, revealing... that dude from Ally McBeal.

Shainberg has a few sweet directorial tricks up his sleeve that work here, and Kidman is as good in the role as you'd expect her to be. Downey, on the other hand, employs the exact same puppy-dog stare, oh-so-sincere delivery that he's employed in every movie I've ever seen him in. But no amount of great acting could save this silly-ass movie; the concept is patently ridiculous, and the tone so somber that it's like watching an extended Monty Python skit with all the jokes removed. Except for the one about giving Chewbacca a handjob—they left that one in, and it's pretty hilarious.

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