There’s a lot of scratch your head and shrug your shoulders about in confusion and disbelief over the poor decision making in No Such Thing. There’s the kernel of a great idea, but it doesn’t grow or prosper beyond that rudimentary idea. A modern day retread of the “Beauty & the Beast” fairy tale, but delivered in a very twee, anemic indie package, No Such Thing ends up frustrating as much as it delights.
One of the main problems is a sense of half-formed thoughts and monologues in which broad concepts like “the media” or “fame” without providing any unique, smart or concise thoughts about any of these subjects. The absence of salient arguments is harmful to a minimalistic film with large spaces of little to no dialog, so tiny amount remains has an extra weight added onto it. Even worse is how great actresses like Julie Christie and Helen Mirren, trying valiantly to overcome the limitations of thinly plotted characters, are trotted out like show ponies with nothing to do. Mirren wears a severe bob haircut and is constantly with a cigarette while doing her best approximation of Anna Wintour performing as Edith Head, but it never evolves beyond this thin sketch. And Christie mostly just smiles serenely and functions as a kind of fairy godmother in a way.
The only true saving graces are the two central performances from Sarah Polley and Robert John Burke. They bring a soulfulness and gravitas that the rest of the movie cannot earn or support. Scenes with just the two of them together have an energy and life that the rest of the movie is too bored to even try to recapture or enliven itself towards. It’s a somnambulistic affair, and might just be the first, last and only Hal Hartley film I partake in if the rest of his work is anything even remotely like this.