SUBMISSION — Review by Diane Carson

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Submission lacks insight into sexual victimization. It’s certainly the right time to tackle the important topic of sexual harassment and sexual victimization. But we don’t need director Richard Levine’s Submission, a dim-witted film that reinforces insulting male and female stereotypes as it follows a veteran college writing professor, naïvely malleable and easily seduced by an attractive, ambitious, duplicitous female student. Continue reading…

Telegraphed from the opening scene to the final moments, only some insightful or complex characterization would warrant this story now. Instead from the staid, fictional Houston College to the dull creative writing class, the environment strains credulity as it plods predictably along. Professor Ted Swenson suffers from writing block—trite—as he becomes increasingly enamored of Angela, a name that shouts irony. She ensnares Swenson as the spider does the fly. Along the way, we learn only cursory information about her; she’s what’s known as a heavy-handed plot device, not a three-dimensional character.

Adapted by Levine from Francine Prose’s 2000 novel Blue Angel: A Novel, the story feels as tired as its uninspired technical elements. In addition to its regressive politics, the explicit allusions to director Josef von Sternberg’s iconic 1930 “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings, make this retread look even more unimaginative. A hint to filmmakers: don’t invite comparisons with accomplished, powerful films. Yours pales with the juxtaposition.

Most important is the topic—charges of sexual harassment against a professor. Submission provides solace to those who want to undermine women’s claims. Of course, some women lie, but much more often, they are discounted, dismissed, and undermined. This film also ignores the power imbalance in its failure to establish a sound analysis of male and female predators.

Strong performances by Stanley Tucci as Swenson, Addison Timlin as Angela, and Kyra Sedgwick as Ted’s wife Sherrie can’t save a leaden script. Submission does have one memorable scene when Sherrie learns of Ted’s infidelity and reacts with emotional shock and profound outrage. Angela’s parents offer clownish support and the entire faculty would drive any talented student running for the hills. Interaction often feels awkward, the staging wooden. Submission gets an F.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.