Movie Review: Plush
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Reviewed: 20 October 2013
In her new film Plush, director Catherine Hardwicke offers a cautionary tale of Hayley (Emily Browning), a rock and roll vocalist whose life unravels as she struggles with her guitarist brother’s drug overdose. Set amidst the backdrop of a tour with a floundering single and an uncertain future, Hayley struggles holding her home life together with her husband Carter (Cam Gigandet) and two children as well as hiring new replacement guitarist Enzo (Xavier Samuel) to move forward with her band. Enzo resembles Hayley’s late brother, and his dark energy attracts her and inspires her at a critical time in her life. Enzo has ideas for Hayley’s career, moving her towards edgier material that may change and possibly destroy her as the two cross into a dangerous relationship without clear boundaries.
Plush aims unsuccessfully for a sort of middle ground between erotic thriller and relationship drama but then shifts to be a more conventional horror film, a film where loud noises erupt but then turn out to be lawn sprinklers multiple times. Hardwicke obviously spent a great deal of time constructing Hayley’s world, and Browning delivers a strong vocal performance onstage. Judging from the credits, she prepared nearly a dozen songs for the role. And there is the rub. Hardwicke spent more time constructing that world and its seedy milieu and less time improving a creaky script without surprises that tips its hand nearly an hour into the film, and eventually goes completely haywire. Browning’s Hayley never fully earned my sympathy or interest, and the actress falters a bit in capturing the desperation of a woman spiraling out of control. I wonder if an actress like Rooney Mara or Noomi Rapace would have been able to carry Hayley’s fierce yet brittle charisma to more satisfying results. Gigandet’s Carter is a bland character with the busy writing schedule of a national magazine reporter yet seems to only want to dig giant holes in the backyard ominously. Samuel’s Enzo, with his wild moods and tortured, histrionic gestures, seems to be having the most fun, but even he wears out his welcome and is reduced to ridiculousness by the end. Throw in creepy puppets, disturbing video imagery, and a secluded home in the Hollywood Hills, and Plush ends up with far too much going on in a story that cannot handle the strain.
Plush boils over, leaving very little to enjoy. Hardwicke’s film suggests concerns about artistic integrity amidst commercialism, as well as how the rootless nature of a tour can destroy a personal life, but neither of those points seems compelling or fresh. The film offers an insider’s look at the music industry, but then offers thin supporting characters and unconvincing conflict that prevent the stakes from ever being more real. Hayley and Carter’s house in the hills is never in jeopardy. In her debut film Thirteen, Hardwicke had a stronger cast (Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter) to help her carry that relationship-based story. Here, she seems adrift and without the proper cast or script to achieve her desired vision, and Plush suffers as a result.