ZIPPER (2015) review
written by: Mora Stephens and Joel Viertel
produced by: Darren Aronofsky, Mark Heyman and R. Bryan Wright
directed by: Mora Stephens
rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and brief drug use)
runtime: 109 min.
U.s. release date: January 27, 2015 (Sundance) & August 28, 2015 (limited)
You’d think a movie called “Zipper” about a dude with sex addiction would be a comedy, right? Wrong. There’s no laughs to be had in Mora Stephen’s sophomore film, a decade after her feature-length debut “The Conventioniers”, which I haven’t seen is listed a political rom-com and this movie is being marketed as a political thriller – only there’s really no thrills. So, no laughs and no thrills. What does that leave us with? A mediocre and predictable quasi-examination of sexual addiction that lies somewhere between a Lifetime Movie of the Week and Skinemax that is actually kind of a snooze.
Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) is high-profile South Carolina prosecutor and a family man with a beautiful whip-smart wife, Jeannie (Lena Headey) – she did better than him in law school – and a young son named James (Kelton DuMont). They live in a nice home, Sam’s political star is rising and life generally looks great for the Ellis family. There’s only person who can ruin it all for them: Sam. That’s because he’s addicted to sex – not the kind with his wife. He’s addicted to pornography on his laptop (work or home, makes no difference) and is a chronic masturbator.
It doesn’t help that young women in his office flock to him and soon the temptation for more increases with online porn failing to meet his insatiable desires. It definitely doesn’t help when one randy intern (Dianna Agron) makes moves on Sam after a work party or when Sam has to interview an alluring young escort (Elena Satine) as a witness on a case. Both of these encounters burn in his mind, providing images for fantasies that fuel his ever-increasing libido.
At the same time, opportunities arise for Sam to make a giant leap in his career with an interested campaign advisor, George Hiller (Richard Dreyfuss), pointing him toward a U.S. Senate seat. Sam’s colleague (John Cho, funny how he gets third billing on the poster, but he has a total of about 5 minutes on-screen) and boss (Christopher McDonald) are behind him as is his wife, who has brought in a journalist and friend of her father’s, Nigel Coaker (Ray Winstone), to do an expose on Sam to provide an even greater spotlight for the charismatic attorney.
Instead of preparing himself for a major career move, Sam has given in to his secret sexual compulsion and has moved on to a local escort service, something he’s never done before. His first meet-up at a hotel with Christy (a great Alexandria Breckenridge “The Walking Dead”), an escort from Executive Privilege, is quick-pulsed and understandably awkward. Sam almost backs out, but the newbie is lured, persuaded and ultimately conquested by his host. He swears this was a one-and-done appointment, but we know how far gone he is. With guilt and career pressures weighing him down, Sam continues his path of immoral behavior with a handful of other escorts, including Laci (Penelope Mitchell “The Vampire Diaries”), to feed his carnal desires in order to evade the stresses of his sins and pressure of his job. But, as we know….it all comes out in the wash.
The age-old subject of infidelity, specifically middle-aged flings is no stranger to the big-screen. Movies like “Fatal Attraction” and “Unfaithful” dealt with it from all nuptial sides and recently two recent movies, Steve McQueen’s drama “Shame” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s comedic directorial debut “Don Jon”, covered the subject of sex addiction from the mind of the single modern-day internet-obsessed man. All of those films handle these subjects in a more compelling and accomplished manner than “Zipper” does, which just doesn’t provide us with enough characterization to pull us in.
In fact, Stephens, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Joel Viertel skims the surface of the protagonists psyche while offering insubstantial subplots that divert from the main narrative. We get the idea that Sam was really close to his mother, who died of cancer and has obvious emotional scar tissue from that event – but is his sex addiction on outlet for dealing with that grief? This movie doesn’t follow through on that. That can be a problem or at least an annoyance. Another problem is the way “Zipper” concludes, primarily what Stephens and Viertel do with Headey’s Jeannie. Her behavior comes way out of left field, yet unfortunately falls into utterly predictable and unsatisfying behavior.
There are other issue with the screenplay, one of which is the characterization of Sam. He has no real friends. Sure, his wife is supposed to be his best friend, as she reminds him once he comes clean (in a scene that finally gives Headey something to do), but no guy friends? None? Why would that be necessary? Well, at the least, it could provide Sam with someone who knew him a little better than his wife – a guy who know of his lustful desires and at least would be someone Sam could confide in or direct him in seeking help for his addiction. It just seemed odd to me that he had no peers and then it dawned on me that’s what he (and the movie) needed – another male perspective, one that’s not clouded by sex or career.
Nevertheless, it’s obvious Patrick Wilson makes for a great philanderer. He’s done it before in “Little Children” and I would even consider him an underrated versatile actor (check out “Barry Munday”). I’ve liked him since “Hard Candy” and he’s done a fine job in most of the roles he’s taken, even if a movie is mediocre and the script is predictable and the dialogue hits us over the head with eye-roller lines like, “Why do we hold politicians to a higher standard when it comes to marriage and adultery?” Thank you for spelling out certain themes for viewers Stephens and Viertel! It’s obvious the role the handsome actor is playing is meant to vaguely resemble Eliot Spitzer in a “ripped from the headlines” SVU style, but it’s all so blandly conventionalized.
And what about the stock character wife? That’s a must in this subgenre. Well, Lena Headey deserves better. It’s really hard to believe that she doesn’t notice her husband acting odd early on and when she does it seems like it’s more out of convenience to the bland plot.
Also, for us to really feel for this couple, we need to see them together and in love. That would help. Rarely are Sam and his wife together and when they are they don’t seem connected. Maybe the fracture lines were already showing before this movie started, but it would’ve helped to at least show that there was a time when these two were crazy about each other. Headey’s character makes a choice in the movie’s last 15 or so minutes that is so left field that it makes her just as reprehensible as her husband. How sad.
The movie could’ve been a fascinating study on how addicts can never satiate their hunger and how the deeper they get the greater their inability to have any relationship whatsoever. Instead, it tried to be a thriller, both political or erotic, and failed at both. Near the end of the movie, the character Dreyfuss plays has a conversation with Wilson’s Sam and mentions that he is aware of his “zipper problem”, a groan-inducing mention of the title. All it did was add to the problems the ridiculously titled “Zipper” has.