submission movie
Photo from the film Submission.

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Richard Levin
Screenwriter: Richard Levin based on Francine Prose’s novel “Blue Angel
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Kyra Sedgwick, Addison Timlin, Janeane Garofalo, Peter Gallagher, Ritchie Coster, Jessica Hecht
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 1/22/18
Opens: March 2, 2018 in NY.

Time’s up! This is the call of women who are infuriated about sexual harassment by powerful men. They’re not going to take it any longer. Many men are implicated, some having to leave their positions, the most unfortunate case being the resignation of Senator Al Franken for a few hi-jinx he engaged in before becoming a senator and during the time he was writing copy for Saturday Night Live.

Since accusations are often made years after the alleged sordid events, we should expect some to question the veracity of the charges—even if only five percent of the accusations are either false or not as defamatory as they are made to seem. In fact what occurs in Richard Levin’s movie “Submission” is enough to make progressive people turn into conservatives–unless they have also moved politically rightward after seeing David Mamet’s play “Oleanna.” In that sharply written drama, a college student accuses her professor of making sexual remarks several times in class, though it later comes out that a woman’s group on campus had put her up to the accusations. He loses his chance for tenure with a nice raise. His life unravels.

Along comes “Submission,” in which Angela (Addison Timlin) a crafty, manipulative student taking a writing class in a small liberal arts college with Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci), shows enough promise to be taken seriously by the teacher. Ted, married to Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick), a school nurse, is disgusted with the smug colleagues and having to suffer through pretentious dinners and parties at what is best a second-tier, albeit beautifully situated campus. Frustrated by writer’s block after having published one novel, he becomes enthusiastic about the one student in the small seminar who shows promise. He meets with her frequently in his office, and in a day that proves unfortunate, he agrees to come to her room to set up her computer after she requests his aid. He is about to be seduced, abandoned, and charged with sexual harassment.

Agreed: Ted is acting mighty naïve, especially since he has a loving marriage with the beautiful Sherrie. Alone in a room with a student who own erotic writings prove that he she has experience in such matters, he succumbs, and she, believing that he did not show her developing novel to his publisher (Peter Gallagher) as he promised (she’s wrong), asks the administration under the dean (Ritchie Coster) to take disciplinary action.

In other words what transpires here is quite reminiscent of similar scenes in “Oleanna,” though that writer, David Mamet, is known to oppose the use of legal solutions to problems that can be better sorted out informally.

Stanley Tucci looks amazingly good with the large hairpiece which he appears able to use when he climbs into the shower with his wife Sherrie. With the fashionable two-day facial hair (a fashion I can’t understand) and a pair of serious glasses, he looks like the academic and novelist that he is playing. His chemistry with Sedgwick is palpable, and his growing attraction to the student believable. Tucci and Timlin make this movie engrossing, and the lovely Kyra Sedgwick adds greatly to its atmosphere.

I’m angry at the way women can manipulate men. I’m angry at the way men manipulate women. Admittedly, though, the way our society is set up, men appear to have the advantages of power to manipulate the fair sex. “Submission” is based on Francine Prose’s novel some 17 years ago (prophetic, it seems), called “Blue Angel,” the title inspired by Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 classic “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich as a cabaret performer who ruins the reputation and the life of a naïve teacher.

Unrated. 107 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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