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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Lady with the Lapdog
by Donald Levit

One wonders why Sorry, Haters was penned in the first place, and had a movie made from it. Director-writer Jeff Stanzler’s odd ambition to “contribute to world culture [by] creating an international Arab Muslim movie star,” and then welding that to a friend’s post-9/11 emptiness, may be so but is irrelevant.

Tackling such sensitive territory at this time, the result falls on its face, and would at any time. Through twists and unexpected turns, an okay mystery of identity and personality is set up, but motivation is glaringly absent. Perhaps this is the fault of editing, of pieces cut out (or left in): the last-minute afterthought of the avowedly central WTC attack, the Arab’s theft of a stuffed suitcase from a total stranger at the Newark International Airport Shuttle drop-off, and the brief implication that the villainess just happened to choose the Syrian cabbie but pulls the same stunt on others as well.

If the point is to show that all believers in Islam are unfairly tarred with the same brush as terrorists, why then muddy things with the otherwise chaste hero’s cry that he lusts after his white, non-Muslim sister-in-law? Or if it is simply that the big city is awash with dangerous wackos, that hardly needs stating. Or that provincial repression does not deal well with urban pressure and professional jealousy -- but why only a single, easily missed throwaway line about a straight-arrow Calvinist past, and why even try to equal what Polanski achieved so brilliantly with Deneuve in Repulsion, his first English-language work?

Press handouts request that the “true nature of the characters [and] these twists that defy initial expectations” not be revealed. Fair enough, for the initial situation does have possibilities, and, if confusing, later reversals of rôles would have been acceptable if done by a more talented hand.

Tritely holding a doctorate in chemistry from his homeland, honest Ashade (Abdellatif Kechiche) wears a white tupi skullcap during long hours behind the wheel of a New York cab. The earnings are added to donations from fellow members of the Islamic Council of America, Inc., to sue for release of a brother unjustly detained along with an adult son from a previous marriage. About to check in on that brother’s wife (Elodie Bouchez, as Eloise) and baby son (Makani Rietveld), he gets a parking ticket and unluckily takes one last fare (Robin Wright Penn). The passenger introduces herself as “Phyllie,” Phyllis MacIntyre, soon revealed as a with-it cynical executive at pop-culture Q-Dog TV. Attractive but emotionally constipated, she at first gives random directions, then asks to be driven across the river to an impressive house in Englewood, where she spies on a husband, his “little yellow Yoko . . . homewrecker” wife (Sandra Oh) and their daughter, and defaces a Lexus in the driveway. Back in Manhattan, she manically talks about herself to Ashade and Eloise and in her office insists on phoning “Jewboy lawyer” Harry to straighten out the family’s INS problem.

Made nervous by her aggressiveness, racial epithets, stereotyping and innuendo about his private life, Ashade refuses and leaves when she conspiratorially suggests that he “hate[s] Americans, don’t you?” and that she will help “brave Muslim” him to exact “symbolic retribution, a little revenge” in which no one will actually be hurt. Finding his glove compartment rifled of photos and five hundred dollars destined for his brother’s case, he will have to contact the woman again and return to her trendy office, where surprises await.

Far from the advertised “anxiety of a city on edge,” Sorry, Haters does no more than sketch a sorry woman. Addicted to secret cigars, pasting together careful cutouts of the rich and famous and fashionable self-cutting, she appears to break, as he does, but what threatens a ludicrous love-match resolution, twists a final time, as she cynically invokes the memory of her parents and then splatters the one creature that cares for her. Don’t ask why. 

(Released by IFC Films; rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)

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