What is it about the most unique and visionary artists that people want to make movies about their lives, yet can’t manage to find a unique and visionary way of doing so? Documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner (Dig!) makes her feature debut with this biopic about photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith), following him from the late 1960s through his death from AIDS in 1989, including his relationships with artist/musician Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) and art collector Sam Wagstaff (John Benjamin Hickey). Timoner sneaks a few stylish montages into the narrative, as she traces a path that connects Mapplethorpe’s awakening to his own sexuality with his discovery of his creative wheelhouse. There’s just too much rote material here, from Mapplethorpe’s conflicts with his conservative Catholic parents to tensions between Mapplethorpe and his younger brother Edward (Brandon Sklenar) when Edward considers his own career as a photographer. Smith never quite finds a hook for the evolution of Mapplethorpe from a man who pleads with Patti “if you leave me, I’ll become gay,” to the queer icon he becomes. He’s controversial, he’s troubled, he dies young—show me something fresh, or why bother showing it at all?
Director: Ondi Timoner
Producer: Richard Bosner, Eliza Dushku, Nate Dushku, Ondi Timoner, Sam Maydew and Peter Palandjian
Cast: Matt Smith, Marianne Rendón, John Hickey, Brandon Sklenar, McKinley Belcher III, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, Brian Mitchell, Kerry Butler, Hari Nef, Rotimi Paul and Tina Benko