Women, stand up.
After being randomly raped in her own home, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) doesn’t know who to trust or what to make sense of. So, the only thing that she can do, without alerting the police, is just get on with her everyday life, as if nothing had ever happened in the first place and everything is peachy-keen. She goes back to her job as the head of a successful video game company, where she gets on her a few employees, but also adores a few others. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with issues from her ex-husband (Christian Berkel), as well as her best-friend/employee (Anne Consigny), and cougar mother (Judith Magre), who spends most of her time and fortune on a much younger man who she hardly even knows, yet, trusts enough to get married to and leave everything to, if she does just so happen to die in the foreseeable future. And if that wasn’t enough for Michèle, she’s also got these new neighbors who are way too stingy for their own good, an immature who won’t learn to grow-up, and a possible affair that may be more and more scandalous, the longer she decides to not tell anyone about it.
It’s been a long, long ten years, but you know what? Paul Verhoeven is back, everyone. And honestly, as corny as it is to say and type, he’s better than ever. While from a certain standpoint, Elle may seem like it has way, way too much going on for what it is, essentially, a revenge-thriller, but that’s the actual beauty of it. Verhoeven has made a career off of taking all of these different strands of story, putting them together in one pile, and letting it rip, which is exactly what he does here, but it’s far more than just pure, trashy, pulpy entertainment.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a heart and soul to Elle that may surprise you.
That isn’t to say that Verhoeven himself doesn’t have some fun with the material, because he totally does. In a way, Elle is his excuse to play with genres more than he’s ever done in the past. Thriller, romance, drama, comedy, mystery, nothing is off the table for Verhoeven and because of that, it’s hard not to be excited by Elle. Like he did with Black Book, Verhoeven hardly ever lets up and just keeps on going and going and going, until he needs to catch a breather or two, but even then though, in those very rare, small moments of actual heart and humanity, Verhoeven’s still restless.
It’s basically what he did with Black Book, but whereas with that movie, it felt like he was just sort of running wild, with nowhere to go, here, there’s at least something of an objective in plain sight: Telling the story of this complicated, yet, incredibly compelling woman.
And as this one woman in particular, Isabelle Huppert gives one of her best performances. Crazy, right? One of the best actresses to ever grace the screen, American or Foreign, Huppert gives what is, essentially, a career-defining performance in a Paul Verhoeven movie, and while his track-record with female actors/characters is, at the very least, spotty, he gives her everything to work with and she takes it all with flying colors.
Because Michèle is such a difficult character to love and understand, Huppert has a great time; you never quite know what she’s thinking, what she’s going to do next, or even what her reasons are behind most of her odd decisions. But no matter what, her character is inherently intriguing, where she makes one decision, then makes another to contradict that last, and you’re sort of left wondering why? But it doesn’t matter – Huppert runs just as wild with this character as Verhoeven does with this movie and it makes me happy to see her finally, after all of these years, get some possible Oscar-talk.
Even if she doesn’t win, it just matters that she’s finally getting talked about, for what seems like a time coming.
Of course, Verhoeven’s caring and allows everyone else to put in some great work, too, alongside the likes of Huppert. Anne Consigny is great as her best-friend/employee who knows everything there is to know about Michèle and accepts her for what she is, warts and all; Christian Berkel is a nice fit as Michèle’s ex who she still, on some occasions, bangs; and as her cougar-bound mother, Judith Magre is such a blast to watch, playing-up the fact that she is ancient, but also isn’t ashamed of that. Deep down underneath the thriller itself, is a fun, crazy and sometimes thrilling family-drama that in a lesser-movie, would have been the only piece in the pie, but because this is a Paul Verhoeven movie, there’s a whole lot more pieces where that came from.
And in a way, it works and sort of doesn’t. Due to Verhoeven dealing and playing around with so many strands of plat and genres, he can’t help but get twisted up in it just a bit, which is what eventually happens by the end. See, when all is said and done, and we realize that the movie is definitely going to be about the actual rape itself, the movie does go off the deep-end, to where it’s far more sinister and violent than we ever expected it to be. Does it still stay fun? Yes, definitely. But what, at one point, was a cold, dark thriller placed in this believable, detailed character-drama, soon just turns into another one of Verhoeven’s slightly erotic-thrillers that care more about nudity and blood, than actual hearts or humans.
May sound like a little too much to ask for, but hey, so be it. Paul Verhoeven’s back and let’s hope that he’s here to stay.
Consensus: Wacky, wild, twisted and entertaining, Elle is a solid balancing act and return for Paul Verhoeven, while also featuring one of the best performances the legendary and impeccably talented Isabelle Huppert has ever given.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire