NICOLE Kidman’s hopes of securing her third Oscar nomination have taken a tumble, with critics panning her new film Fur, based on the life of American photographer Diane Arbus.
Having won the 2002 best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours, the Australian film star appeared to have landed another dream role when she signed up to play Arbus, famous for photographing human freaks and who committed suicide in 1971.
The film shows little of Arbus’s photography and makes no attempt to explain her suicide.
The Wall Street Journal listed Fur as one of the “stinkers” of the Telluride film festival in Colorado. Variety, the Hollywood newspaper, said it carried “far more metaphorical weight than dramatic force”. And The Hollywood Reporter declared: “Fur is not an Oscar contender.”
The film is based on a 1984 biography by Patricia Bosworth, a former model who was photographed by Arbus.
To many Hollywood insiders, the project seemed a certain winner for Kidman, whose name had been circulating alongside Judi Dench (for her role in the film of Zoe Heller’s novel Notes on a Scandal), Helen Mirren (for The Queen) and Kate Winslet (for Little Children) in early Oscar predictions.
Starting as a fashion photographer, Arbus became fascinated by human abnormality and began to turn her lens on dwarves, transvestites and circus performers. Among her best-known work, shot mainly in black and white, were such shots as Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx; Mexican dwarf in his hotel room; and Albino sword swallower at a carnival.
Yet director Steven Shainberg decided at the outset that he was not interested in making a conventional biopic tracing Arbus’s life up to the moment she slit her wrists and swallowed sleeping pills before dying in her bath.
He decided to focus on a three-month period in Arbus’s life when she was beginning to make her transition from commercial photographer to artist.
To dramatise the change in her life, the director invented a fantasy character, played by Robert Downey Jr, who suffers from a rare disease that covers his skin with fur. Shainberg described the character as “metaphoric and a literal freak — all the people she went out and photographed, rolled into one”. The film, due to be released in the US in November, looked set to become one of the most talked-about of the year.
Yet the early word on Fur has dampened expectations. Most critics agreed that while Kidman had far from disgraced herself in Fur — Variety described her acting as “quicksilver subtlety” — it was Downey who dominated the film. Unfortunately for both actors, nobody seemed to like the director’s approach. “Kidman and Downey did what they could, but (the film) is as lifeless as it is pretentious,” declared The Wall Street Journal.