“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are very different from you and me,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”
Perhaps that explains the privileged Baekelands. When beautiful, charming Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore) marries adventurer Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane), heir to his grandfather’s Bakelite plastics fortune, she makes no secret of her social ambition. And the arrival of their son, Tony, does nothing to slow her down. A lonely, precocious child, Tony becomes his mother’s confidante, setting the foundation for their future outrageous decadence as they traipse through Europe.
During his listless adolescence, Tony (Eddie Redmayne) is drawn to homosexuality, despite the attentions of gold-digging Blanca (Elena Anaya), whom he picks up on the beach and who runs off with Brooks. Shocked and embarrassed at her husband’s desertion, Barbara invites a bisexual ‘walker,’ Sam (Hugh Dancy), to visit – and they wind up in bed as a threesome: Barbara, Sam and Tony.
Since incest is our of our society’s basic taboos – disaster is inevitable.
Based on Natalie Robins’ and Steven M.K. Aaronson’s true story, the screenplay by Howard A. Rodman spans from 1946 to 1972. Director Tom Kalin’s (“Swoon”) primary problem is eliciting sympathy for this seriously dysfunctional family without divulging their amoral pathology, which is never explored in any depth. Julianne Moore’s vulnerability and sensitivity are admirable, as is Stephen Dillane’s indifference. But Eddie Redmayne plays debased and debauched from the getgo. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Savage Grace” is a strange, stylized, sordid 5, dealing with lurid, repugnant relationships.