Plush (2013)

For about the first half of Plush, it looked as if everything was going to be okay. Not for the characters, but for the movie. It came across as an exploration of how an artist needs to explore the dark side in order to bring out the best of herself. It painted a portrait of a character and how she had to deal with the loss of her best friend and brother, figure out how to ignore and avoid stalker fans, and juggle her family life against what she does on the road. All of this works, and while the film was still tonally off, it was hitting enough right notes to be worth seeing.

That character is Hayley (Emily Browning), a songwriter and lead singer for the band Plush. In our opening monologue, we learn how her brother, Jack (Thomas Dekker), died of a drug overdose. It broke her, but after some time off she wrote a new album that has been rejected by her fans for being too sentimental. Jack has been replaced with Enzo (Xavier Samuel), whom everyone believes is gay and looks kind of like Jack, Hayley admits, although we see so little of her brother that almost anyone could look like him.

Soon enough, Enzo and Hayley are having an affair. “What happens on tour stays on tour,” they decide, in large part because Hayley is married to, and has a couple of children with, a journalist named Carter (Cam Gigandent). But the affair with Enzo awakens the passion for writing darker material that Plush needs, and it leads to a song that fans adore. But something with Enzo seems off, and before you know it, we’ve degenerated into a generic thriller without any ideas. Yawn.

Enzo starts becoming a bigger and bigger part of Hayley’s life, and after we arrive at her house, the film goes off the rails and loses focus of any clear objective. It wants to be some sort of artsy and erotic thriller, but it only has one truly creative moment — Enzo directs an experimental music video that is … interesting, at the very least — and it’s never thrilling. It becomes generic, cliché, and loses any semblance of intellect.

None of this is a spoiler, or should be considered a spoiler, by the way. If you don’t see it going in this direction — with Enzo soon being the villain, a random new nanny popping up out of nowhere and being exactly what you expect — then you need to watch more movies. Or read more stories. Or think while watching and reading. Think at all. It could not be more predictable, even though I was hoping for the entire time it was playing that it was just teasing us, and that it would be smarter and more original than that. I was let down.

Plush‘s director is Catherine Hardwicke, who initially seems to be returning to her more independent and darker roots — films like Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown — but then shows that perhaps that side of her is gone, or that she no longer wants to explore it. Is the film telling us that, since she hasn’t dabbled in the dark side that Hayley does, she lost that edge and as a result the film degenerates like it does? I’m probably reading too much into it, but wouldn’t that be interesting?

I always want to look for some positives in a film, and while Plush is largely devoid of them after its first half, it does have a couple. The concert scenes make you almost wish that Plush was a real band, and it reminds us that Emily Browning really can sing — those who saw Sucker Punch (do it!) and heard a few of the tracks from its soundtrack can attest to that. That artsy music video partway through is also fantastic, and I’d like to see Hardwicke direct a feature film with that style. Nobody could say it would be dull, that’s for sure.

What’s most surprising about Plush is how all of its characters believe the things they’re told with the utmost sincerity. Enzo’s acting just like a stalker? Aww, he’s probably just lonely and wanting to be a good person. The nanny is brand new and said the agency told her to come? Why would we call the agency to find out if that’s the truth? It’s like they’re the most naive people on the face of the planet.

It doesn’t help that the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Emily Browning can act, but she doesn’t show that here. Even when exploring her darker side, that mostly just amounts to more eyeliner put on her face. She’s supposed to be fighting inner turmoil for much of the film, but it rarely amounts to anything we can see or feel. Xavier Samuel is a one-note pony who makes it clear to us but apparently not the characters that he’s less than sane. Cam Gigandent is here for some scenes but doesn’t leave an impression. He’s the third wheel and necessary for the plot.

Plush starts out strong but after the midway point peters out into absolutely nothing of worth, making us wonder (1) how it opened so strong and (2) how it went so wrong. It becomes a generic thriller built on cliché. All of its ideas and interesting themes are thrown out the window. It’s obvious to us that this is going to happen but the characters are too stupid to see the signs. The acting is poor, the waste of talent is immense, and you’re likely to leave feeling bored, frustrated, and not at all amused.

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