Cutie and the Boxer (2013) (R)
"Cutie and the Boxer" is a movie about love, marriage, and art. It concerns Japanese artists Noriko and Ushio Shinohara. These two, separated by over two decades, met in New York and fell in love. Their marriage was a mixture of sad and happy—their art was and is their lives.
Imagine this—two elderly people with boxing gloves padded with foam that were dipped in paint, punching each other to Bach's most famous cello piece (though not on the cellos). In slow motion, the two pound each other, giving large patches of bright color to each other on their stomachs, legs, and faces. What does this seem like to you? For Noriko and Ushio, it's a normal marriage.
Ushio, the elder and arguably more famous of the two (the boxer referred to in the movie's title), is also the more eccentric. His art screams of chaos and unpredictability. His wife's, less so. She does cartoon-ish drawings of her life with Ushio, who everyone calls "Bullie".
Naked in almost all of her own drawings, Noriko refers to herself as "Cutie". She also paints realistic scenes like the side of a building at night time or New York shrouded in light.
Ushio is all over the place. He does paper-mache sculptures made from cardboard he finds on the side of the street. He also does punching paints, when he throws his boxing gloves, dipped in paint, on a canvas, letting the color spread as it would.
"Cutie and the Boxer" is an incredibly well-made movie in the fashion of "Crumb", a movie that I really didn't like. I found nothing enjoyable about that classic documentary, not knowing anything about the subject. I didn't want to be educated.
With "Cutie and the Boxer", I was interested. I find the couple much more relatable. But the movie drags.
It doesn't have any subtitles and much of it is in Japanese. I'm not sure if it was a malfunction on the version that I saw; but that's what I got. Even so, if it was a mess-up, their story didn't interest me enough to merit going back and catching all the subtleties that I missed.
Noriko's drawings tell her story: how she fell in love with a much older man, became poor for him, and had a child. These two seem made for each other—complimenting each other so well.
But the film is about a starving artist, albeit a very famous one. Even though his name is well-known, Ushio has rarely sold a work of art.
This is evidenced with a communication that we see between the couple and a woman working for a museum. She seems so keen on buying a painting, though we never see that act completed—it doesn't matter if it ever was or not...the point is that these people live from day to day on just their dreams.
They are true artists, not the glamorous type that we see.
Because their words were not translated for me, "Cutie and the Boxer" was an exercise in observation.
The inflections start to mean more, the facial expressions tell stories.
Still, it was frustrating to know how much material was going over my head.
"Cutie and the Boxer" has amazed critics this year like "Crumb" did when it was released. I remain not-quite as impressed as everyone else.
It's a good movie and great to look at—the hipster camera work is sensational and starting to define the "modern movie".
But there was something missing for me. Something to make the film powerful. It's about life and good at that; but it's not great at the nuances of life.
Perhaps if it had shortened some scenes and lengthed others—like a bedside chat that the couple have about their marriage—the movie would have felt more relatable.
The director Zachary Heinzerling had to gain an enormous amount of trust for this tale to be told. It has, so he must have earned it.
"Cutie and the Boxer" is a very intimate movie about a very specific art movement and artist, but it has the facade of being about marriage and love. It doesn't quite fulfill either purpose, hovering blandly over mediocrity. The heart that went into the picture didn't quite make it out the other end.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones