James Toback’s When Will I Be Loved is Indecent Proposal with none of the tension and delusions of grandeur. Not only is it utterly unoriginal, but the plot is as flimsy as Neve Campbell’s wardrobe. It’s so insubstantial, in fact, that it wouldn’t hold your interest for 42 minutes of television, let alone 81 minutes in the cinema. I wouldn’t want this film to be a minute longer, but surely there’s a minimum length for a ‘feature film’, and it’s longer than 81 minutes.
The plot amounts to this: A moneyed, aimless young woman agrees to sleep with a wealthy European for the fiscal benefit of her hustler boyfriend. My walk from the parking lot to the theatre had more plot. When a movie is short on plot, it either aspires to be a character study or a docudrama, such as Campbell’s last (and far superior) movie, The Company. It’s hard to know what writer/director Toback hoped When Will I Be Loved would be, but it’s neither of these.
Vera, Campbell’s character, is apparently a sexual-liberated young lady who lunches in New York. She claims to be “on a journey”, but to where and why is never discussed. In fact, Vera’s motivation throughout the film, including, most importantly, accepting the indecent proposal, is mystifying. Campbell has a natural delivery, but is habitually a cool character on-screen. This works when she’s cast appropriately, such as the gothy mastermind in Wild Things, but her reserve doesn’t offer much insight into Vera. Toback’s script and editing don’t help either–every scene is overwritten, and most carry on long after we’ve gotten the point.
What is Neve Campbell doing in this movie? There’s a job interview scene early in the film, in which the director plays a college professor talking to Campbell’s character about becoming his assistant. As the conversation goes on, the characters recognize that his pitch is merely a long-winded, academic appeal for sex. Vera doesn’t fall for it. One imagines a similar conversation between Toback and Campbell, in which he convinces her of the intellectual merit of the script, when really all he wants to do is film her naked. Campbell, unfortunately, does fall for it.
The only grounds on which I can recommend When Will I Be Loved is titillation. The film opens and closes with shower scenes, and the first act features not only a foursome in Central Park, but also a tremendously gratuitous lesbian scene. If T and A are what you’re after, I’d steer you towards to Wild Things or Show Girls. At least those films have no illusions of high art, and are willing to embrace the campiness of their genre. When Will I Be Loved even manages to make the sex scenes tedious.