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Arts & Life

The Twisted Realities Of 'Creative Control' Could Use A Little More Bite

courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

At the start, Benjamin Dickinson's Creative Control looks all dressed up and ready to go. The black and white catches you by surprise. David, played by Dickinson himself, is a young, hip-looking ad man who zips from elevator to his office. He checks the uppers and downers in his pocket before he smiles at the receptionist – and gets her name wrong. It's a flashy world that's soon to have a virtual hang up — and the comedy might work, if the film had some nerve.

David's new advertising project is for a device called Augmenta, which is something like a computer inside sunglasses that lets the wearer have elaborate fantasies. Before you can bat an eye, Creative Control has settled into that familiar turf where young men idealize a woman other than the one they're with. In this case, David pines virtually and electronically for Sophie, who happens to be the actual girlfriend of David's buddy, a photographer named Wim.

They both mistake image for what's actual.

Aside from the unexpected black and white, though, the picture of a man longing for what he hasn't got is less than a hot news story. Think Greek mythology. Young men's notions of electronically-improved young women have also been popping out of computers in movies for the past few years. Think the film Her. That might all be OK if Creative Control took the story somewhere. The movie is amusing, but it's hard to avoid the feeling that in spite of the snappy look, Creative Control is stuck in the same limiting self-absorption as its characters.

The more I think about Creative Control, the more my mind goes to stories and movies that do the same thing better. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo doesn't involve women improved electronically. It looks inside the deep, perverse obsessions of James Stewart's character who wants to reshape one actual woman into another woman he believes is dead. The relentless anxiety of Vertigo comes from what that second woman knows – along with her equally perverse obsessions about him.

Woody Allen's funny short story "The Kugelmass Episode" makes fun of technology. A man has created a machine that can put a person into a book. Kugelmass, who is unhappy with his home life, takes a trip into Madame Bovary, causing collateral effects like confused college students asking their teachers about this guy Kugelmass who suddenly appears in the book. Professors who haven't read the novel in years, answer lamely that great fiction changes every time you read it. Kugelmass winds up in a second-year Latin text.

It's a hilarious story, but it doesn't stop with a timid caution that Kugelmass shouldn't do what he does. Allen's story revels in the absurd idea that inventions can fix the deep-seated unhappiness of human beings.

Creative Control doesn't have that degree of insight or curiosity. It stops at the surface. Judd Apatow did not work on this film, but the picture reeks of imitation. Creative Control is like the weak side of the TV series Girls – it can shock the audience with a kind of almost graphic sex, but makes sure not to go beyond careful titillation.

Creative Control avoids emotional connection or understanding. It's a safe picture. It has a great touch with things familiar and slightly, conservatively edgy. Young people wander through the world unable to make their fantasies come true. But no one risks their life or their sanity, or goes hungry. The situation could be frightening – and also funny – but I don't think this movie knows how to do either.

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