Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Movie Review: Insignificance (1985)

A drama imagining a hypothetical meeting of four icons from the 1950s, Insignificance poses a speculative question then flounders in search of an interesting answer.

The setting is New York, and although the four main characters are never named, the representations are obvious. On the night Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell) shoots the blowing-skirt-above-the-grate scene for The Seven Year Itch witnessed by a mass of onlookers, Albert Einstein (Michael Emil) is holed up in a hotel room preparing for a conference. Senator Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis) is in town trying to pressure Einstein into admitting he is a communist sympathizer. And Marilyn's husband Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) is despondent, watching the world ogle his wife.

Over one long night the four characters meet in pairs in Einstein's room, engaging in conversations on a variety of topics. An elevator attendant (Will Sampson) interacts with a few of them.

Writer Terry Johnson adapts his stage play to the screen, and admittedly, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio walk into a hotel...is a potentially compelling introduction to a joke or a skit. But despite oodles of style, director Nicolas Roeg cannot hide the subsequent lack of substance. Beyond the initial what if curiosity, Insignificance fizzles.

So Marilyn is not a dumb blonde and can take a (clumsy) crack at explaining the theory of relativity. Reciprocating the role reversal, Einstein responds by revealing his legs, and is not beyond considering a sexual escapade, although he is resolute in refusing to humour McCarthy's accusations. Meanwhile the Senator's frolic with a prostitute is compromised by his erectile dysfunction. And Joe DiMaggio is exactly who he is, a gum-chewing ballplayer deeply in love with his wife, but tired of her prolonged absences and forced to share her with millions of fans.

Roeg scatters flashback snippets to the childhoods of the four characters in a superficial attempt to explain what shaped their psyche, and makes an effort to infuse some visual splendour as an antidote to the nondescript hotel room hosting most of the dialogue. The ending attempts to layer Einstein's worst nightmare on top of the already imagined drama, and by this stage the film is gasping for any oxygen to relieve the tedium.

With four character sharing the screen time, the actors are unable to meaningfully delve beneath the make-up. Insignificance is a compelling set-up with a limp punchline.



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