The lack of space in popular culture for the more visionary voices is saddening. Such acclaimed artists as Vincent Van Gogh and Emily Dickinson were famously ahead of and therefore ignored in their time, only discovering popularity after their deaths. Perhaps it is this lingering prospect of stalled success that keeps depression and dramatics “practically in the job description,” as Lambert Wilson’s greedy gallery director callously puts it in “Posthumous.” Retrospect allows for some retribution to be granted, but what good is a legacy to those deceased and thus unable to enjoy it?
Jack Huston plays struggling artist Liam Price, who is mistakenly reported as dead and briskly awarded a sudden increase in fame, allowing him to have his cake and eat it too. Initially unaware of his own demise, he eventually comes to realize the potential stimulus such an announcement may have on his stumbling career, and begins to attend his own exhibitions under the guise of his invented brother. Enter journalist McKenzie Grain (Brit Marling), who sees her career abruptly halted and exchanged for a more passive life as girlfriend to a wealthy art dealer. Quickly seeing through Price’s disguises, she seeks him out for the big scoop, only to find solace and a shaky romance emerging in the process.
First-time director Lulu Wang uses the tragedy of this premise to a similar degree as those contemporary artists who pass it off freely as a running gag, turning it into a setup for a light and bubbly romantic comedy with a slighter focus on criticizing the art world. The film, self aware of the indulgence within the art medium, takes the opportunity to satirize. Early on, a track in an otherwise indie quirk score from Brian Crosby and Dustin O’Halloran, drenched in an out of place grandeur, is abruptly interrupted by a dull, awkward sound effect occurring in reality, as if entirely negating its theatrics. And the pompousness with which critics and enthusiasts read into substance that does not exist is an obvious commentary that Wang humorously observes. However, rather than pursue any of the matters beyond its romantic comedy sensibilities and risk a semblance of pretentiousness, the film soon after resigns itself to a mere shallowness. In the place of any complicated ideas, a breezy, simpler charm is asserted.
Set in a beautifully depicted Berlin, native German cinematographer Stefan Ciupek captures the underrepresented city with a muted warmth that accentuates a comfortable melancholy. Starring the consistently fantastic and extremely watchable Brit Marling in the lead role, the film is bolstered by her charismatic presence. And you can go ahead and add Grain to Marling’s catalog of strong, capable female characters empowered to overcome their flaws.
As a whole, the film is enchanting even if certain aspects of it are not. The most daunting of these is the relationship which threatens to form between Grain and Price and seems to overtake the film in its later half. The chemistry is not there and the whole ordeal feels entirely unearned and unnecessary. Similarly, an aloof tone which revels in chuckle-worthy gags somewhat detracts from the seriousness of some of the film’s more thoughtful excursions into the history and sacrifice with which art is imbued and success, measured.
Wang’s reputation as a writer and director is not so definitive yet, and it is nice to be able to watch a film and listen to its artist-philosopher-king main character ramble about certain truths without having the filmmaker’s presence and agenda interrupt any fictitious facade. Still, it would be preferable that her vision, as assured as it is, be more interested in the untapped complex insights which stem from her fascinating premise rather than focused on providing straightforward pleasures. Granted, “Posthumous” may never become one of those seminal works lost in their eras, but it does make itself vulnerable to being forgotten. [C+]