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Rated 2.98 stars
by 1155 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Shameless Fabrication
by Diana Saenger

As the opening credits for Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus rolled on, I was intrigued by a statement printed on screen about this movie being “a film that invents characters and situations that reach beyond reality to express what might have been Arbus's inner experience on her extraordinary path."

I couldn’t help wondering what was so wrong with the real story of Arbus's life and why screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Steven Shainberg (Secretary) would have to invent “might have been” scenarios. Arbus was, as noted in Patricia Bosworth’s book Diane Arbus: A Biography (which served as the basis for this film adaptation), a noted photographer who found unusual subjects for her photographs in a world where most of us never venture.

With mega-stars Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. on board, however, I was ready to take a chance. By the end of the movie, I was appalled that these filmmakers and actors had the gall to present such a farce as something a person who is already passed away "might have experienced."

Kidman stars as Diane Arbus, a mousy housewife who is an assistant to her husband Allan, a photographer specializing in fashion and advertising. Though in 1958 women were trained to be subservient to their husbands, Diane was also raised in the wealth and protocol of her parent's fur business. Gertrude (Jane Alexander) and David Nemerov (Harris Yulin), her parents, hold her and Diane's two daughters under a microscope, constantly inspecting their adherence to a code of behavior and perfection.

Allan (Ty Burrell) recognizes the stress Diane is under and encourages her to take her own photographs, even presenting her with a terrific Rolleiflex camera. But the things he expects Diane to photograph do not interest her. She's like a boiling cauldron -- and yearns to take pictures of the bizarre and unusual things her world has never come in contact with; until the night she sees her upstairs neighbor.

Diane first glimpses Lionel Sweeny (Robert Downey Jr.) while her husband is shooting ads for her family's fur business in their apartment and she is standing at the window watching things move in and out of the moving van. In the dimness of the night she spots a man in a hat and overcoat, but can tell his face is concealed by a mask under his scarf. Their eyes meet and hold each other’s stare as Lionel pauses before entering the building, then thumps loudly up the stairs to the apartment above.  

As days go by, Diane is increasingly fascinated by the odd characters coming and going from her neighbor's apartment. When her bathroom sink seems clogged with hair from the apartment above her, she ascends the stairs and tiptoes inside Lionel’s open door, where a man completely covered with hair greets her. Lionel tells her he suffers from hypertrichosis, a pathological condition which makes hair grow all over his body. It's the beginning of a relationship that deepens every day.

Soon Diane is spending hours in Lionel's apartment ignoring Allan and her children. Day after day Allan asks to see her photographs but she refuses. One has to wonder why he doesn't suspect anything or get upset, but he doesn't. While Diane continues to photograph the misfits, freaks and circus performers coming and going from Lionel's apartment, she and Lionel fall in love. Soon she's bathing naked in his tub, and -- shown grossly through lengthy boring shots -- shaving Lionel's body with one long stroke after another. It's like watching your pet at the dog wash.

This would be a hard story to believe if it were true, but for a screenwriter to make up such an obscure and hideous tale about a real person is unconscionable, irresponsible and egotistical. Lionel looks like a werewolf, there's nothing appealing about him, and Downey never conveys one moment of torment to at least conjure up some kind of sympathy for such a man.

Granted, something must have sparked the real Diane Arbus to step from behind the conventional camera and become the noted photographer she was, but this story is an outright lie and foolish as well. A far better biopic would have explored the real world Arbus developed and perhaps why she committed suicide at such a young age.

Kidman plays another blank-looking character who seems out of place no matter where she's at. Few emotions explain to viewers what Arbus feels or why, so it's pure guess on their part. Is she rebelling against her parents' control? Bored with her husband's blandness? Who knows?

Although the Beauty and the Beast theme works in many movies, Fur lacks anything interesting about its sets, locations, music or costumes and ends up being a pitiful made-up story.

(Released by Picturehouse and rated “R” for graphic nudity, some sexuality and language.)

Read Diana Saenger’s reviews of classic films at

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