Sundance - Downloading Nancy (2008)


Reviewed by Scott Weinberg

Hey, that's an interesting title! Perhaps it's a romantic comedy about a computer nerd who falls in love with an internet pin-up girl and ... oh, you say Downloading Nancy is not a comedy, but a bleak, brutal and aggressively unpleasant psycho-sexual-thriller sort of thing? OK, no problem. And it stars Maria Bello, Rufus Sewell, and Jason Patric? OK, hit play already, I'm interested.

(About nineteen minutes later.)

OK, surely there's something more rewarding that I could be doing with my life right now, like yanking weeds from my lawn?

These (and a thousand other) thoughts collided through my brain as a I suffered through the ugly, boring, and aggravatingly pointless experience that is Downloading Nancy. Ostensibly a film about emotionally-frigid people who'd rather ultimately suffer and DIE than live, the movie seems to be all sorts of deep, insightful and disgustingly meaningful ... but I'd choose to disagree with any claims of artistic endeavor; I'm fully convinced that unseemly "hot issue" dramas like this one are born from the same mindset that concocted Captivity: People will often pay to see something that's described as "shocking," "horrific," or "extreme" -- and whether or not the movie's any GOOD doesn't usually enter into the equation.

Last year at Sundance, people were all curious to see a movie in which a young actress (Dakota Fanning) participated in a simulated rape scene. They also wanted to see that documentary about a man who was killed by having intercourse with a horse. This year at Sundance people wanted to see the flick in which Maria Bello gets grungy, naked, and willingly tortured -- oh, and a movie in which Ben Kingsley sucks face with an Olsen twin.

So while the premise of the stupidly-titled Downloading Nancy promises all sorts of darkly compelling ideas and potentially uncomfortable subject matter ... the truth is that Downloading Nancy is a lot like a low-rent shock-value horror movie. Except there's no fun to be had, no insight to be gleaned, no point to be found. A very brave performance by Maria Bello is as close as I can come to "praise," but here's the gist of the flick:

Stuck in a dead-end marriage to a golf-addicted zombie (but not the cool kind of zombie), poor Nancy takes to slashing her arms and legs with various sharp implements. (It's at this point I'll freely admit that there are thousands of legitimately unwell people out there who feel compelled to "cut" themselves, and perhaps there's a film waiting to be made that portrays this malady in a frank and insightful light -- but Downloading Nancy sure as hell isn't it.) In addition to self-mutilation, Nancy has another hobby: She's an internet junkie. And it's on said internet that Nancy finds a kindred sicko: A hunky dude who seems more than willing to KILL Nancy if that's what she really wants. And all signs point to Nancy wanting death.

So as the movie flips back and forth between Jason Patric beating on Maria Bello and Rufus Sewell not really caring what happened to his wife, Downloading Nancy starts to feel like a student-film version of Irreversible -- with a healthy dash of material stolen directly from films like Marian Dora's Cannibal and and Martin Weisz's Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story -- minus the homosexual cannibalism. All three leads jump into the unseemly material with all the enthusiasm that the promise of "amazing indie cred" can offer; Ms. Bello is particularly open and, yes, kinda brave, all things considered. But without a palpable point worth latching on to, Downloading Nancy is nothing more than 80-some minutes of oh-so-edgy and brazenly ugly claptrap. It has delusions of merit here and there, but more often it's just content to be nasty for the sake of possible controversy.