SHOULD I SEE IT?
Stanley Tucci getting a leading role? In 2018? Sign me up.
Submission has a very interesting premise for a movie in 2018: A teacher potentially falling for one of his students. Some will be interested to see how this plays in our existing social climate right now.
The movie has its fans. Writer/director Richard Levine has attempted to craft a nimble, compelling power play of a film which keeps character motivations constantly in question.
Well, the film takes an interesting turn, which again, in 2018, makes me wonder how well it will be received.
Seems to be ready to make a profound statement on gender dynamics and the leveraging positions of power to get something you want, but I would argue the movie actually says nothing of substance whatsoever.
Some will appreciate the fact that this film feels like a garden variety film from the MIramax catalog, circa 1997. Others will recognize that the movie feels dated from the opening frame.
A college literature professor becomes enamored with a student’s manuscript, and then with her, in Submission, writer/director Richard Levine’s look at positional power, politics and sexually-tinged gender dynamics in a collegiate setting.
Stanley Tucci stars as Ted Swenson, a 49-year-old liberal arts professor who finds 20-something Angela (Addison Timlin) an eager budding novelist taking a creative writing course. Angela sets up an office hour appointment to ask if he will read the first chapter or so of her manuscript, a prospective novel called “Eggs.” Likely receiving a number of these proposals through the years, Ted begrudgingly, almost dismissively agrees, but is quickly blown away by Angela’s writing ability.
We learn more and more about Ted’s quaint and idyllic life. Empty nesting with wife Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick), their daughter Ruby (Colby Minifie) away at college, Ted teaches class, attends intellectual dinners with peers and colleagues, and hopes to reclaim some previous fleeting glory as a novelist.
Seeing unbridled talent in Angela’s initial work, with a story detailing a high school student's erotic feelings for one of her teachers, he agrees to read chapter after chapter. His mentoring and teaching becomes increasingly less helpful, almost nonexistent, as he continues reading more and more. Becoming something of a smitten fan, he simply wants to consume her every word.
Angela frequently stays after class and Ted starts walking with her around campus, and even agrees to drive her upstate to replace a broken hard drive for her computer.
And I'm sure you likely see where this is all may be going.
Submission becomes an uncomfortable power play between student and teacher, and vice versa, while Ted and Angela circle around one another. Ted begins seeing himself in the role of the teacher, a real life iteration Angela seems to hope to bring to life, but Angela sees the opportunity to play with this new connection in different ways than Ted could ever realize.
In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, a film like Submission arrives at a very peculiar time. When tables turn and Angela makes choices that put Ted on the defense, Levine’s screenplay takes a wicked turn when Sedgwick gets the opportunity to steal the film with one powerhouse scene and speech directed at Tucci. Yet, even when the acting is top notch, nothing feels good here. Ted is bookish, cocky, and dim to the steps he’s taking. Angela is manipulative, dangerous, and, worst of all, “a writer”, an inescapable vulnerability in Ted's makeup he ashamedly shares with his wife in a moment of weakness and vulnerability.
Adapted from Francine Prose’s novel “Blue Angel,” released in 2000, a book referenced several times in the film, Levine continually digs and digs, trying to find humanity and civility for us to latch on to. Ultimately, whether you find Submission thoughtful, inquisitive, or even a little dastardly in its motivations, the film seems unable to work its way out of a story that nonetheless feels awkward, disquieting, and a little bit ugly.
Tucci can play roles like this in his sleep and glides into Ted’s skin with ease. Timlin is a breakout here, more than holding her own opposite Tucci, and when Levine ramps up the scrutiny of the Ted/Angela dynamic, she is terrific.
But by the end, Levine makes a decision to take his story in a particular way that is, well, in a word, polarizing. And for a film that appears to have something to say about gender dynamics, power, privilege, influence, and sexual morays in a very particular setting, Submission cowers, offering nothing substantive or meaningful to a timely conversation it is all too eager to join, but ill equipped to make better.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Stanley Tucci, Addison Timlin, Kyra Sedgwick, Janeane Garofalo, Ritchie Coster, Colby Minifie, Alison Bartlett, Matt Ballard.
Director: Richard Levine
Written by: Richard Levine
Adapted from the novel "Blue Angel" by Francine Prose.
Release Date: March 2, 2018
Great Point Media