Neil LaBute has always been a playwright who dabbles in film, but in the past he’s made at least a token effort to disguise his movies’ theatrical nature. With Some Velvet Morning, however, he’s given up trying. Though it doesn’t appear to have been previously staged anywhere (as his The Shape Of Things was), this real-time drama unfolds entirely in a single location—a large, three-story house in an unnamed city—and features only two characters, a man and a woman, who spend the entire film arguing. As filmmaking, it couldn’t possibly be more perfunctory, so the only relevant questions are whether the script is any good and, if so, whether the actors do it justice. As it turns out, both of those questions are harder to answer, for reasons that are tricky to discuss.
The premise is simple enough. A woman (Alice Eve), whose name is never revealed, but whose nickname used to be Velvet, answers a knock at her front door and finds Fred (Stanley Tucci), a former lover, standing there with multiple suitcases. LaBute knows his way around natural exposition, so it takes some time for the details to emerge, but eventually it becomes clear that this relationship ended abruptly four years earlier, when Fred refused to leave his wife for Velvet. Now, at last, he has, only to find that Velvet, a part-time hooker, is still occasionally seeing Fred’s adult son, through whom they met in the first place. What’s more, Velvet insists that she’s no longer in love with Fred, a statement that he refuses to accept. Their tense negotiations regarding their past and future get progressively uglier, until Velvet demands that Fred leave and Fred, with the usual sensitivity of a LaBute male, demands that she at least blow him first.
Where this contretemps ends up is rather interesting, though it would be counterproductive to go into detail. LaBute has always been fond of the last-second rug-pull that re-contextualizes everything, but Some Velvet Morning’s climactic revelation is distinct from those of his previous films in a specific, intriguing way, one that trades brutality for something more poignant. If only the journey to that destination were a bit more flavorful. Tucci digs into Fred’s grotesque sense of entitlement—it’s clearly never occurred to him that he might not be welcomed back with open arms after four years—but Eve too frequently drifts into dull passivity, and LaBute’s contentious dialogue mostly lacks bite. It’s possible to argue that some of this is intentional, but that doesn’t make it any less enervating in the moment. A second viewing of Some Velvet Morning might prove considerably more rewarding than the first, but a stronger film (or play) would work equally well on both levels.