The title simply says, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Unfortunately, this film does very little talking and too much exploiting. Academy Award-winner (and possible future nominee) Tilda Swinton stars as the mother of a young “Kevin.” The tiny, independent film opens with Swinton swimming in a red liquid that we later learn is mashed tomatoes. We assume she is in a celebration in Italy. Then, the movie cuts to Swinton cleaning red paint off of her sad, little house while looking dumbfounded. She spends the rest of the two-hour film looking the same way.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” cuts between scenes of present day Swinton (cleaning paint, obtaining and maintaining a job, drinking) with scenes of her as a young mother raising Kevin and his younger sister. We learn within the first few minutes (and the trailer) that the red paint was splashed onher house by town folk who are rightfully pissed (although misguided) at her for raising a young demon who apparently shoots up a high school, killing and injuring many.
We see through flashback after endless flashback that Kevin was always a different child. He practically came out of the womb demonic with a huge chip on his shoulder. We then assume that all the bad he does throughout his life – up to the shooting as a teenager -is aimed at punishing Swinton. It sounds like an interesting, albeit bizarre, topic for a movie. However, the film deeply falls off his story when we try to even remotely understand the motivation behind the crazy that’s all wrapped up in little Kevin (who appears Asian as a child, although neither of his parents are…odd).
John C. Reilly is obnoxiously miscast as Swinton’s dumb husband who ignores any potential signs that their son might have some issues. A fantastic actor, Reilly, has been reduced to moping around and acting like Elmer Fudd through the film. It is never clear why Swinton and Reilly would ever be together, let alone raise children. It is never explained why Swinton would stay in the environment. It is never explained why Kevin is so mad at the world, let alone his mother. Nothing is ever explained.
I have to admit that the thought of a movie about a school shooter makes my stomach turn. However, I was optimistic about the film because I thought maybe it would give us some insight into why things like this happen. None of that happens. Instead we get a whiny baby that grows into a teen who wreaks havoc on his family, who later becomes a killer who stuns the town. That’s it. That’s the story. No motivation, no guidance, no empathy.
From a script standpoint, there are some major issues. Without giving anything away, the viewer is left to wonder about some of the silliest things that remain unexplained. For instance, after the shooting, Swinton experiences shock and simply goes to bed covered in red. Did anyone think of interviewing her or questioning her knowledge at the police station? Nope, apparently looking dumbfounded and falling asleep was the natural reaction.
I will tolerate a difficult movie or difficult subject matter if it provides the audience with any sort of insight, morale, or perspective. This film does none of that. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing part. I couldn’t stop thinking about the film for days after I watched it and the more I thought about the choices (deliberate?) made to create huge holes in the story, the more upset I became.
Swinton will likely score a Best Actress nomination for the role. She is brilliant as a modern day character dealing with restarting her life, post-shooting. Her cold face and mannerisms only add to the depth she brings to these scenes. Unfortunately, the script calls for her to be cold through multiple flashbacks. It’s an effective performance, in a film that inspired so much discussion and lively hate within me, that I’m more conflicted about “Kevin” than any film in recent years. In the end, I’m not sure I want to talk to Kevin or even be anywhere near him or his icy mother.
Final Grade: Swinton A, Script and Story F, Averages out to about a C-
*As a side note, this film was viewed on a press/media screener provided by the film distributors. It will presumably open in Northwest Arkansas in late January.
Wayne Bell is a freelance contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Master’s Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.