One of the best episodes of Schitt’s Creek sees Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) go bonkers when some nude photos from her past leak online. That episode, “Moira’s Nudes,” is a highlight of Jerry Ciccoritti’s work on the show. Ciccoritti’s latest film Lie Exposed also deals with the joys and consequences of tasteful nudes. But tackling the fine line between art and smut is as tricky as folding in the cheese. Moira Rose could have taught Lie Exposed a thing or two about the dos-and-don’ts of baring one’s mozza.
Lie Exposed crafts a provocative consideration of sex positivity and self-love thanks to a terrific performance by Leslie Hope (24). Hope stars as Melanie, a fifty-something Torontonian who learns that she is terminally ill. This news leaves her considering her life, as well as the body that houses it. She goes on a bender and winds up in Los Angeles (???) where she meets a photographer (Jeff Kober) and becomes his muse. The photographer inspires Melanie to celebrate her body—folds, wrinkles, illness, and all. She sits for a series of nudes for his tintype process. The antiquated mode of plate-based photography has a stirring sense of permanence while highlighting the body’s fragility.
Melanie, like Moira, delights in preserving her body before it’s too late. However, she also encounters the terror that happens when her nudes greet the public. An edgy exhibit in Toronto with her husband, Frank (Bruce Greenwood), showcases the old cameras and the comparatively younger vagina captured on tintype plates. The bold exhibit invites Melanie’s friends to join her in confronting her vulnerability and mortality. Which, and there’s no way to discuss this element without seeming crass or vulgar, makes Lie Exposed an overdrawn tease for beaver shots. We look at people looking at nudes and then watch them discuss them before Ciccoritti parades them before the credits.
Melanie and Frank’s friends have lots to say about their host’s lady bits. Lie Exposed digresses into the relationship dramas of players in the concentric circles of Melanie’s life. Her friends confront the states of their relationships after seeing Melanie so nakedly. The exhibition provokes delight, disgust, curiosity, longing, and hunger for second chances. It stirs memories of first loves and younger libidos. If there’s a fine line between tasteful nudes and pornographic ones, Melanie’s are the former given the depth of conversation they provoke.
Talks at the Audience
Lie Exposed doesn’t quite know what to do with these various parties, though. The film digresses into too many tangents as we watch couples appear, bicker for ten minutes, and disappear. More often than not, these conversations feel like little more than filler to beef out Melanie’s story. Grace Lynn Kung does her best with a thankless speech about the vulgarity of porn and the way it erodes intimacy. Her character’s a proxy for Frank and perhaps the best example of the film’s preference for lofty rhetoric over meaty drama. These scenes just talk at the audience.
The film affords heavy-handed musings about sex and love, and some great scenes for actors who deserve more. Megan Follows, for example, appears an hour into the film as the wife of an exhibition-goer (Kris Holden-Ried). He returns home eager to make amends and spark passion in his wife in ways that Frank failed to do. But the sheer randomness of the scene undercuts its power. Ditto a great two-hander sequence with Kristin Lehman and David Hewlett as a couple struggling to reignite the spark after their relationship stops being an infidelity. Some random tangents about alcoholism and Melanie’s sobriety also struggle to connect going dry with stripping down.
Familiar and Stagey
There’s a great film somewhere in Lie Exposed, but even its few truthful moments evoke better films like Closer, Unfaithful, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Last Night, and the collected works of Atom Egoyan. Slow, overdrawn, and self-consciously edgy conversations recall the sex, lies, and videotape knock-offs of the 1990s. The sequences betray the film’s theatrical origins and resemble isolated monologues sewn together. (Some nifty tintype portraits of the couples, however, are refreshingly cinematic.)
Kober, adapting his play Pornography, has a piece that probably works best as a multimedia stage drama. The stage-to-screen effort also breezes through too much voiceover atop non-linear sequences. The disorienting first act is a jumble of monologues as Hope reflects upon Melanie’s motivations, fears, and desires. A scattershot editing job leaves the puzzle more obscured than elucidated. Scenes between Melanie’s friends are fleshed-out acts. Her relationship with Frank is mostly shards. For all the extended glimpses into the ways in which the exhibit shakes Melanie and Frank’s friends, it sidesteps the drama that the photos create in their relationship. Perhaps the film takes the element of underexposure in the tintype process too literally.
Lie Exposed opens in Toronto on March 6.
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