Bob (James LeGros) is a successful writer, enjoying his marriage with a painter. Her name is Helen (Mira Sorvino), and she is using one of her rich friend’s mansions for a gallery opening. This opening is where he starts an obsession with a woman that derails both his career and his marriage. This might be a dicey premise, but a twist might it go either way. Here is the twist – his obsession is with a Chumash woman who died millennia ago. Waterlily Jaguar shows Bob and Helen’s marriage through the direction and writing of Melora Walters.
Walters is an actress who has worked with enough Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Anderson works as an executive producer here, and such a collaboration can add nuance in depicting an artistic couple. Both work as each other’s artist and muses. There is another character in the mix, Bob’s assistant Wilhelmina (Stacey Oristano). And the film shows their relationship as more intellectual than sexual. The film gets its title, by the way, from one of Bob and Wilhelmina’s natural brainstorming sessions. Waterlily Jaguar, then becomes the ancient woman’s name, as well as the protagonist of his new novel, straying from the airport thrillers that he usually writes.
It’s the kind of hokey name a white writer would make up for an Indigenous woman. It is also the fourth film I have recently seen about people who work in the seven arts. And it is the second of those four expressing the characters’ artistic side through set design. Economic status also plays into this aspect of the film making. There are bookshelves taller than the people living in those houses. It also sees those shelves and offices with suspicion, as Helen looks through them, trying to discover if Bob is having an affair. Because characters in films do not have to be smart, apparently.
The nonexistent affair is just one of the few ways to show how the other characters see Bob, but Waterlily Jaguar is mostly through his perspective. It shows him driving to the woods where the Chumash woman meets her end. He indulges in these Walden-like treks. This method writing is a diversion from the brooding airport writer who gets visions of the woman. Which sure, but he could do research for his novel with anthropologists instead of trying to be the next Thoreau. His antics also frustrate his agent (Dominic Monaghan).
It is fine to make a mockery of that cliché, but Waterlily Jaguar swings the other way by showing Southern California excess. It is also one of the rare and unsuccessful combination of rich but sad people. This is true in Helen’s scenes, especially in one where she asks Wilhelmina about Bob possibly having an affair. It is nice that the film shows women as friend rather than rivals. But if my future husband were having an affair the assistant would be the prime suspect.
In watching Waterlily Jaguar, I keep thinking this as a companion piece to Phantom Thread. Both directors were making these films within a year or two, with the former languishing until its digital release. That is one of many recent films that justify why people stick together, especially toxic artists and their assistants. LeGros is doing his best here, the texture in his voice adding masculinity to the role. Sorvino, Oristano, and Monaghan, on the other hand, has less to do other than look good but sad. Either way, if I were the wife or the assistant of someone obsessed with bones, I would walk out. And the longer this film goes, the more it shows that it knows nothing about the writing world.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Drama
- Release Date: 5/19/2020
- Directed by: Melora Walters
- Starring: Dominic Monaghan, James LeGros, Mira Sorvino, Stacey Oristano
- Produced by: Mark Sayre, Paul Thomas Anderson, Troy Daniel Smith
- Written by: Melora Walters
- Studio: In The Sky Films, Lexicon Entertainment Room
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