The thing is, if you’re going in blind, We Need To Talk About Kevin sounds kind of like a comedy. It’s not, of course. It’s about as far from a comedy as you can get. At the same time, I think the movie might work better if you go in blind, so I’m going to advise you not to read the capsules, and only brush on the story shape here, and overall tone—which will be more than enough for you to determine whether you want to see it.
When we meet Eva, she’s living in a run-down little house in a small town somewhere and desperately looking for work. In between shots of her present day life, we see threads of her former life: Her courtship with Franklin, the birth of her son, Kevin, who is difficult to say the least, and her daughter, Celia.
The focus of the movie is the friction between Kevin and Eva, which allows for a certain degree of incompetency on Eva’s part but which mostly focuses on Kevin’s innate evil.
That’s right, this is The Bad Seed. Or Orphan, if you prefer. Done Oscar™-style!
Which should be a big tip as to whether want you to see it. Production-values-wise: Tilda Swinton is great as Eva, expectedly, though she’s better as tortured mother than glowing bride or expectant mom. John C. Reilly is Franklin, and he—well, he seems to fit perfectly into just about every role he’s in, doesn’t he. (OK, I guess if you see him as the buffoons he’s been playing in some of his bigger budget flicks, maybe not, but I think that’s your problem, not his.)
There are three different Kevins and, frankly, I think they’re a mixed bag. There’s a real challenge to the role that I’m not sure the pre-schooler and grade-schooler are up to. I mean, they’re so cuuuuuuuuute!
I just had a hard time buying the evil there.
In fact, despite the stark realism, it didn’t feel like a real thing to me. Less so than a Bad Seed or even an Orphan. Why? Because this is an “arty” film, there’s a compulsive injection of ambiguity into the proceedings.
You could say this isn’t a Bad Seed so much as a Bad Mom movie, as it has this week need to inject ambiguity into the proceedings. Eva’s not a great mom to Kevin. Partly it’s because she’s self-involved, but mostly it’s because he’s eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil! This has a bizarre side-effect of raising the question, “Was he born that way or did she make him that way?”
But that’s silly. Distracting. Crappy mom’s don’t make evil kids. Evil moms, sure. Psycho moms, yeah, why not. But just slightly cool moms? Good lord, the entire Northeast upper middle class would be riddled with psychotic sociop—okay, maybe a bad example.
You get my point. It’s one thing to have the mom wonder, “Did I do this?” This is a fair question that generates sympathy with the viewer. If you have the audience wondering “Well, is she just that awful a bitch that she’s driving her son to extremes?” you take away a lot of sympathy. Or just make things murky.
Despite the mis-steps, it’s dramatically effective. Stark, nihilistic, this movie lives deep in the very darkest heart of despair, reminding us that a roll of the dice can doom your entire existence to the bleak realms of gray from which there is no escape.
Not really my kind of flick, you know? Not bad, and it managed to engage me moments after finding certain devices too cute or manipulative. But Bad Seed movies aren’t my thing precisely because of the ickiness, and this movie doesn’t skimp on the ick.
The Boy was…moved. Disturbed. That tells you something about it right there.