The Hollywood #MeToo Movie Inspired by a Weinstein-Esque Creep
The new movie “TAPE,” streaming on April 10, is based on a true story about a predatory Hollywood film producer.
TAPE, a #MeToo-era film, manages to be both overwrought and hyperliteral. In the film’s opening sequence, Rosa (Annarosa Mudd, who also produced), a former actress, pierces her own tongue, shaves her head, and (trigger warning) slits her wrists—but not quite suicidally. She’s on a revenge mission to get evidence against an abusive movie producer who now has a new crop of identical young women to prey on.
A compelling aspect of TAPE is that it refuses to render the abuser, a guy simply named Lux (Tarek Bishara), monstrous. He’s conventionally attractive, charming, and, at first, professional. He uses nonviolent communication and reels in his victims with finely-tuned grooming techniques. Unfortunately, writer-director Deborah Kampmeier’s script is full of cliches and histrionics that spin the film into an after school special rather than a searing commentary; the ways abusers can insinuate themselves into the lives of others and manufacture their consent by exploiting not just naked ambition but existential fear gets lost in the film’s artless noise.
As a director, Kampmeier fashions Rosa’s spying into a multilayered gaze, but we’ve seen the gimmick before. The film relies too heavily on foregrounding the digital technology Rosa uses to spy on Lux and his new conquest—the kind, desperate, and lonely upstart actress Jessica (Isabelle Fuhrman)—seemingly under the illusion that hidden cameras and an iPad offer a bold and empowered way of seeing.
Julie Taymor’s 1999 Titus Andronicus film adaptation is the film’s central inspiration, but Kampmeier takes surface-level notes from Taymor’s innovations. Rosa’s opening scene costumes her as Lavinia, the tragedy’s sacrifice to unchecked hedonism, but TAPE is uninterested in the major theme of female complicity in abuse and destruction in the play—Tamora, the mother of Lavinia’s rapists, revels in violence—nor does it examine the sexist virgin and whore castings that determine the demises of both women. In that way, TAPE is a simplification of the play’s female subjectivities. Rosa’s drive is to expose her abuser and Jessica’s is to succeed as an actress; both are virgins merely manipulated into whores, and the viewer is meant to believe Lux is the evil genius behind it all, about to be bested by very expensive home video technology.
The trouble with this perspective on abuse—particularly the kinds of abuse that are difficult to make sense of through the narratives the law provides—is that it turns women into infants who can only defend themselves with the tools, if not the direct intervention, of the state. Rosa rejects a carceral approach to punishing Lux (to her, the prison sentences for sexual abuse are not long enough); instead, she accepts extreme surveillance as an alternative. Rosa is even willing to (spoiler) expose Jessica’s private interactions with Lux to the public without her consent. In that way, Rosa’s Lavinia morphs into a hackneyed Tamora by using the violence of others as the means for her own bloodied liberation.
In the end, TAPE seems to land on disclosure, the very mechanism of the Hollywood #MeToo movement, as the wisest method for liberation or healing. A journalist gets the tapes Lux made of both Rosa and Jessica with contextual information showing his methods of manipulation; meanwhile, Rosa and Jessica are finally able to bond in a café as women tell the stories of their rapes to each other. There are no revelations in these scenes, but rather, a breathless restaging of the age-old storytelling methodology.
But what are struggling actresses to do? Throughout the film, Jessica dutifully rattles off reasons why it’s easy to exploit and manipulate actresses in the film and television industry: misogyny, hierarchy, scarcity, precariousness. In other words, capitalism reinforces the various abuses of power that working women are subject to. Because these actresses must not only do good work but make money for producers and corporations, they are often at the mercy of their handlers and benefactors. Even if these actresses become wise and hardened, at the end of the day, their images are up for sale, and the profits go to the highest bidders.
Under the current system, for actors to form collectives or cooperatives without ample money or status to back it up would ensure a kind of lifelong poverty and obscurity that’s only normalized in the theater (a sphere racked with economic exploitations that depend on both passion and patronage). That’s showbiz, anyhow. To my great disappointment, TAPE has nothing new or generative to say about it.