Seduced and Abandoned review (DVD)

A fascinating question lies deep at the heart of the simulated reality of James Toback’s faux-documentary exposé of the film industry, Seduced And Abandoned. It just isn’t the one Toback’s asking. Neither a conventional piece of narrative fiction or a straight documentary, Toback’s film sets out to prove that, in today’s film climate, it’s nigh on impossible for established artists (in this case Toback himself and star/partner-in-crime Baldwin) to raise the money for the kind of medium-budget, personal films directors used to make. You know? Like in the ‘70s, maaan!  So Baldwin, Toback and camera crew head off to the Cannes Film Festival with a nebulous, embryonic pitch and the stated aim of raising $20million to shoot an erotic, Last Tango In Paris-style drama (Last Tango In Tikrit!) featuring Baldwin and Campbell having lots of raunchy, “exploratory sex” (their queasy, oft-deployed term) in post-war Iraq, in a film that critiques Western imperialism while suffused with the existential angst and ennui beloved by privileged bourgeois filmmakers.

Predictably amusing hi-jinks ensue with Toback and Baldwin blagging meetings and pitching their opus to bored billionaire investors, bemused representatives of various Middle Eastern regimes (Morocco, Dubai, etc) that might stand in for Iraq and schmoozing with celebrity pals like Coppola and Scorsese where it’s handjobs all round as everyone blows smoke up each other’s asses.  Never once however do the pair ask the one question that’ll be on your mind from the start of the film: what kinda rich, deluded, panty sniffer with more money than sense or taste would pony up a cool $20million to watch Arec Barrwin, the true ugriness of human nature, beast it right up the lass from Party Of Five?  Bertolucci and Brando’s butterfingers might have been groundbreaking in their day but now I’m only a mouse click away from enough deviant filth to make even Tom Sizemore go blind.  Who needs Arec’s sweaty, beetroot-red, simulated O-face and mid-life existential angst when I can watch T?

Like it’s protagonists, Seduced And Abandoned is funny, entertaining, smug and singularly convinced of its own genius.  Consumate name-dropping raconteurs, Baldwin and Toback are fun to be with even though they do become a little tiresome and their encounters with veterans like Coppola, James Caan and Polanski and cinema’s younger generation like Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain, are amusing and celebratory while their pitch sessions with the finance guys are revelatory, both about their own relative status and marquee value in Hollywood and the money men’s willingness to take a punt.  More than once they’re offered several million dollars to realise their project, just never the wildly unrealistic $15-20million they want.  They sneer at the very suggestion of scaling back their ambitions and shooting on digital for an offered budget of $5million, a budget most struggling indie directors would kill for.  

There’s also something just a little disturbing about the constantly used phrase “exploratory sex” and unpalatably sleazy about these two rich, middle-aged, white guys trying to live out their wank fantasies.  When they realise casting Neve Campbell is a block to getting the film made and throw her under the bus, their search for a replacement - essentially propositioning a series of beautiful, talented actresses including Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Bérénice Bejo - feels more than a little grubby, reeking of the casting couch.  You almost expect them to enthusiastically rub their thighs and leer like Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer while sexually harassing Hollywood’s hottest.

Ultimately though, Seduced And Abandoned doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.  It’s a very entertaining whinge, a platform for Hollywood’s A-list to vent their spleen about how unfulfilling it is to be paid millions of dollars and how the leeches with deep pockets have the cheek to expect a return on that small, personal dose of box office poison the public don’t want to see, but it is just a whinge and a lightweight one at that.

EXTRAS ★½ Three deleted scenes (25:40); and the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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