Addiction never looked so bad as in ‘Requiem’
By Susan Stark
She’s a widow, addicted to TV and chocolates; lonely; desperate to somehow bring back the time when she wore a red dress that drew admiring glances from her husband as they headed proudly to their son’s high-school graduation.
Grown to young manhood, the son loves her, in his own way, as much as she loves him. He is, however, quite lost: a dreamer, a loser and, most debilitating of all, a junkie.
Requiem for a Dream, based on the novel by cult favorite Hubert Selby Jr., tells their separate, but equally grim stories. They are stories that seek and, at some tenuous level, establish wide human connections. The sorrows of solitary old age and the gauzy romanticism of youth have wide application.
The movie is Darren Aronofsky’s chaser for his 1998 debut effort Pi, a modest art-house hit. You expect, at the least, something fresh in the way of both technique and point of view. Yet Aronofsky brings nothing more than a barrage of mostly banal stylistic flourishes and a taste for crushing melodrama to a story that, going in, may well be too depressing (if rooted in emotional truth) for most viewers.
Ellen Burstyn, in a truly wild assortment of wigs, makeup and body suits, stars. She plays the elderly Jewish woman from Brooklyn who gets a phone call from a TV show telling her that she’s scheduled for an appearance and who sees that call as a chance to change her life for the better.
By the time she’s done with the smorgasbord of uppers and downers she takes to get into that adored red dress, she’s a basket case. What sort of basketry are we talking about here? She sees her fridge jump. Oof.
Meanwhile, her son, played by Jared Leto (a veteran of several films, but still most widely known for TV’s My So-Called Life), launches a failed scheme to make a quick fortune selling heroin. It yields only the worst sort of physical and emotional mutilation for both him and the sweet, adoring but troubled young woman with whom he believes he has found true love.
Not more than a half-hour in, you get the idea that this is film-school jazz.
For Burstyn, this role goes well beyond an opportunity to tear up scenery. She’s invited to chew, swallow and regurgitate the scenery here. It’s an invitation no actor could refuse.
Finally, though, Requiem for a Dream amounts to requiem for the good work of its cast. It’s a downer — and far more because of Aronofsky’s vanity than because of Selby’s brutally candid story.