Paddy Considine, Jonathan Pryce, and Uma Thurman, in 'My Zinc Bed'

Dir. Anthony Page
(2008, Not Rated, 75 min)

Paddy Considine. Uma Thurman. Jonathan Pryce. Three splendid actors altogether sunk by this entire floofy enterprise. “Floofy” is a word I made up. I don’t know quite what it means, but I know it when I see it. My Zinc Bed was produced by HBO and the BBC and despite its stars and pedigree — the writer is Oscar-nominee David Hare (The Hours, The Reader), adapting his own play — was dumped onto the American airwaves and unceremoniously rushed to DVD. Now I know why. It plays like Days of Our Lives written in iambic pentameter, which might be sort of a novel idea if there were even a shred of emotional truth in it.

Considine stars and narrates as Paul Peplow, a struggling British poet who means to tell us the story of the Summer That Changed Everything. “Joseph Conrad says that inside every heart there burns a desire to set down once and for all a true record of what has happened,” he tells us in voice-over. That’s how he talks. I suspect he would announce going to the bathroom by first quoting Emerson: “Be not a slave to your own bladder. Plunge into the sublime toilet bowl!”

The first two scenes demonstrate an intimacy the film and its characters haven’t remotely earned. In the first, Paul meets with Victor Quinn (Pryce), a businessman who runs a company called Flotilla. Paul has been assigned to interview him about some kind of malfeasance that is never directly explained. But the interview descends into an argument about Alcoholics Anonymous. Victor has somehow learned that Paul is in recovery. Paul responds to this violation of his privacy angrily but proceeds, for no good reason I could discern, to confess the most sordid details of his drinking.

The interview falls through, but Victor gives Paul a job at his company. There he meets Elsa (Thurman), Victor’s wife, and in the second scene he proceeds to tell this stranger a whole new set of dark secrets. By the end they’re kissing in his office. These spontaneous outpourings of his soul ring utterly false, and the infidelity is both shamelessly melodramatic and thuddingly obvious. Within the space of a couple more scenes, Paul is in love with Elsa, and grows paranoid about what Victor knows. Will he fall off the wagon? Could he stop after just one drink?

What on Earth is this film about? For all its florid language, which dances prettily about topics like addiction, capitalism, and marriage, it has nothing of value to say. It’s not serious about alcoholism, which is just topical window dressing for the affair. The business side is so underdeveloped it’s a mystery why it’s brought up at all. And the dialogue — oh the dialogue! How the screenwriter uses so many elaborately assembled words to express so little!

The director is Anthony Page. I suppose I should mention him, though there is little sign of him in this picture. Hare’s script tramples over him and the actors. Tramples over the audience too. It revels in the kind of philosophical posturing that thinks it’s more profound than it is. We long for something — anything! — spoken plainly, emphatically, genuinely. I quote Shakespeare when I say, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” In honoring the Bard’s wisdom, I can sum up this entire film in two words: It sucks.

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