'Downloading Nancy': Pain, On The Screen And Off

Maria Bello and Rufus Sewell in 'Downloading Nancy' i

Slow Groove: Albert (Rufus Sewell) and Nancy (Maria Bello) take their depression to the dance floor in Downloading Nancy. Strand Releasing hide caption

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Maria Bello and Rufus Sewell in 'Downloading Nancy'

Slow Groove: Albert (Rufus Sewell) and Nancy (Maria Bello) take their depression to the dance floor in Downloading Nancy.

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Downloading Nancy

  • Director: Johan Renck
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Unrated: Brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, strong language

With: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell

Jason Patric and Maria Bello in 'Downloading Nancy' i

Mad Love: A bored Nancy and the dangerous Louis (Jason Patric) connect online ... and in the fish aisle at the pet store. Strand Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Strand Releasing
Jason Patric and Maria Bello in 'Downloading Nancy'

Mad Love: A bored Nancy and the dangerous Louis (Jason Patric) connect online ... and in the fish aisle at the pet store.

Strand Releasing
Jason Patric and Rufus Sewell in 'Downloading Nancy' i

Bound And Determined: Louis has a nice, quiet chat with Albert about whether cybersex constitutes infidelity. Strand Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Strand Releasing
Jason Patric and Rufus Sewell in 'Downloading Nancy'

Bound And Determined: Louis has a nice, quiet chat with Albert about whether cybersex constitutes infidelity.

Strand Releasing

The film Downloading Nancy comes stacked with pedigree talent — Maria Bello and Rufus Sewell in front of the camera, legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle behind it. None of it, though, can rescue this repellent piece of work from its preening self-regard.

The end credits coyly announce that the movie, which purports to be about the existential travails of an unhappily married woman who's addicted to pain, was "inspired by true events."

Pretty much everything is, when you think about it, but Swedish director Johan Renck — along with his equally culpable screenwriters, Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross — apparently aspires to a higher order of human storytelling, culled from his vast experience making commercials and music videos.

Ostentatiously frumped out in shapeless cardigans and greasy hair — and what is it, may one ask, that attracts otherwise gifted actresses to any old part that will showcase their inner head case? — Bello plays Nancy, a troubled woman married for 15 stifling years to her bore of a husband.

Said bore is played by Rufus Sewell, whose performance offers the film's lone source of ironic pleasure; it's an understated departure from his usual sinister persona. Albert is a stodgy obsessive-compulsive who meets adversity by teeing up golf balls on his shag carpet. Accordingly, much golfing ensues when Nancy fails to return home after leaving a note saying she'd be "spending a few days with friends."

It turns out that the poor woman, who was, you know, mistreated in childhood by a bad uncle to the point where she can, you know, no longer feel, has met a similarly tortured kindred spirit named Louis (Jason Patric) via the Web. With his dubious help, she is busily attempting to regain the knack for sensation. (Foreshadowing, meet Ultimate Sacrifice.)

Renck does know how to catch the eye, so if you get your jollies from watching Bello cut herself with a razor, pleasure herself against a computer screen or subject herself to sadomasochistic congress with her new Internet pal, Downloading Nancy is the movie for you.

I'd defend such excess to the hilt if it were deployed to some purpose — as in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which actually thought out loud, and usefully, about violence in and out of the family. But not this excess. And not this film.

Renck clearly means to turn movie-of-the-week platitudes on their heads, especially the ones about healing: He portrays Nancy's therapist (Amy Brenneman) as a hapless twit spouting feel-good cliches while her client merrily slices up her own thighs in the bathroom.

Dousing his sets in the washed-out colors of drab reality and tracking his zombie protagonists with a hand-held camera — more often than not the last refuge of the pointlessly arty — Renck traffics in trite indie grunge and the cheap reversals of fashionable despair.

Downloading Nancy is peppered with product placement for a soft drink whose makers, with any luck, will suffer severe consumer blowback for getting behind this awful movie. But the most fitting response surely came from the packs of moviegoers at last year's Sundance Film Festival, who upped and left when they could stand no more of this pretentious rubbish.

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