…Should Have Been Named “The Last Straw.”
At last there is a movie that is very literally about as exciting as watching paint dry. And it’s appropriately titled Final Portrait. It gets Two Stars from me if for no other reason than the fact that Geoffrey Rush gets a star just for showing up. Otherwise this is a droll, dull dry drab dab of grey oils splattered on a bland canvas in a dreary biopic about ’60s Swiss artist and surrealist sculptor Alberto Giacometti. A rage in the age of graphic shtick, this film about Giacometti’s last year is as gimmicky as his portraits and unfolds at an even more lugubrious pace.
Very literally this is a story about a portrait being painted, erased and restarted a dozen times during the film, as Giacometti is obsessed with capturing gay art critic James Lord on canvas, but can’t seem to ever pull it off.
As Lord, Armie Hammer reprises his role in “Call Me by Your Name,” I suppose because the script must have been lying around and he still happened to be in Europe. Unfortunately he brings none of the charisma of the very complex character of “Oliver” over with him.
Misdirected to carry around his asexuality almost as a house sigil, Hammer, as Lord, drags himself through the storyline just long enough to become passive-aggressively annoying and lamentably one-dimensional. He is effete without being clever, tepidly unmotivated and flaccidly unsympathetic. To add to the frustration, Hammer’s onscreen chemistry with Rush is so utterly nonexistent that Giacometti seems to be spending most of his ambulatory moments using Lord as a bulletin board to make his philosophical points. (And it isn’t lost on this viewer at least that all their peripatetic perambulations take place in a Cemetery … where Giacometti seems to be pleading with Lord just to fog a mirror.)
Brilliant performances by Tony Shalhoub and Clémence Poésy almost interject enough plasma of pure joy to save the film. But in the final analysis nothing can. My biggest frustration in all of this is that—given Stanley Tucci as director and a formidable cast—I truly wanted to like this movie, but in the end I had to struggle even to stay awake.
The saddest thing is that, despite all the ingredients that promise real potential, Final Portrait has nothing even close to an arc—only a gritty world of gauche surroundings, tattered around the edges and existential residue that clings to the viewer like the morning after a bad 1960s drug trip.
God spare me precious art pics that think incessant parades of neurosis make for clever filmmaking. And soon enough it becomes one overlong sight gag that is neither very funny nor very much fun. And like the painting itself “it just goes on.”
The final commentary on the story itself comes through when, several times during the wreckage of multiple attempts to paint the same portrait over again, Rush as Giacometti just hangs his head down and shouts, “Oh, F*ck! F*cking hell!! This is awful! I can’t continue!” Couldn’t agree more, Geoff. Couldn’t agree more. And I wish I hadn’t.