MOVIE REVIEW: Submission
SUBMISSION-- 3 STARS
Stanley Tucci is a cinematic treasure of sarcasm. What that man can shell out in a throwaway line, a raised eyebrow, or a pause of bated breath is on another level to most of his peers and contemporaries. When Stanley cranks that mockery up with profanity, it only gets sharper. It would take quite the rug pull to disrupt that man’s mojo. Tucci meets that tumultuous turmoil in Submission. Just when you think you’re on track for a Wonder Boys-like yarn, things get sordid in a hurry from writer-director and longtime TV producer Richard Levine.
Theodore “Ted” Swenson fashions himself as a proper and celebrated author. Self-narrating this story, Ted is in a middle-aged rut like many successful writers before him, describing his anointed title of “an author to watch” might as well be a eulogy. His first smashingly successful novel opened doors and spurred the outward demands for Ted to create a follow-up. Sadly, that’s as far as Ted has gotten in the decade since.
With his understanding spouse in tow (Kyra Sedgwick), he has resigned himself to taking the easy road and the insurance benefits as a Vermont college literature professor, occupying their mascot-level pedestal as their “author in residence.” Wallowing in crappy classes with vacuous Millennials, one of his more open-minded, impulsive, and creative students, Angela Argo (Addison Timlin of Californication) approaches Ted during his office hours to share her appreciation for his work and the need for advice. She has begun writing her own novel and wants his feedback.
LESSON #1: DON’T READ OTHER PEOPLES’ WORK WHILE WRITING YOUR OWN-- Angela’s work captivates Ted and makes him question the weak power of his own unfinished sophomore novel. There’s a hint that he could poach her work and mold it as his own or see it becoming more his story than her’s. He needs to write in isolation but can’t shake the effect that’s already seeping in. Truth be told, I have this very same problem writing these reviews. I won’t read other critics’ reviews on a film before writing my own.
Through the steady flow of newly-submitted pages and chapters, Ted imagines the words in his mind, seen in scintillating mental episodes in the film. More and more, he begins to see himself and, daringly, Angela in those scenes. Ted realizes there may be more to Angela’s ambition and reach than her written words.
Submission escalates a shameful tailspin of risks that are never outweighed by the rewards. The narrative from Levine (Masters of Sex, Nip/Tuck) may not be very diverse from some of the traits of adult cable soap operas he used to oversee. However, the depth of the entanglements and the height of the personality involved are what lift it from tawdry cheapness. The higher the fall, the bigger the crash and we can’t help but watch.
In lesser hands than Stanley Tucci’s, Submission would be a dismissable joke, especially in this current #MeToo landscape. Some audiences still will not want or condone this dirt and ink on their hands. Stanley’s created character imperfections lift the film. Tucci’s inherent smug coolness channeled through Ted can only push the urges back so far. Even his ego to see himself as above such a fray eventually entertains the possibilities or even breaking for them. Watching his specific style of self-involved composure unravel is the fascination to be found in Submission. You don’t know whether to root for his conceit to pull through or fail. Either would still entertain.
LESSON #2: MAINTAIN TEACHER-STUDENT BOUNDARIES-- Small mistakes can lead to large problems. Bigger mistakes can only get colossally worse and will require more than a polite apology. Read the employee handbook. Set and follow rules for meeting times, phone conversations, privacy, and any form of contact. Avoid potential scenarios of he said/she said trouble with strong norms. Stay appropriate and stay professional. Don’t fall for the triggers of Lesson #3.
LESSON #3: THE MANY FORMS OF MANIPULATION-- This very topic could go on for volumes. For Submission, let’s narrow it to the external and the internal forces that manipulate Ted. The external have physical forms with names, between a pushy editor with a deadline or an intrusive student with allure. The internal might worse. Complacency and feelings of inadequacy really do this man in. See the manipulation and avoid it.