LA Film Festival Review: Submission is an Entertaining and Thought-Provoking Character Study.
Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci) is a published author working as a creative writing professor at Euston College. Swenson is passionate about teaching but has grown tired of the profession due to the dull and close-minded nature of his students. He spends each day leading literary discussions while his students rarely contribute, let alone say anything worthwhile. As Swenson attempts to get his students to dig a bit deeper, Angela Argo (Addison Timlin) chimes in with a different viewpoint from her classmates. Impressed by Angela’s answer, Swenson agrees to meet with her during his office hours to further discuss her writing.
Swenson and Angela meet the next morning where they discuss various works of literature. It is during this friendly conversation that Angela mentions that she has read Swenson’s novel. Angela explains how she got the book and how it helped save her life. Shocked by Angela’s personal story about his book, Swenson begins to open up and share his own personal stories which we learn were used as inspiration to write his novel. After listening to Swenson’s story, Angela mentions that she is writing her own novel entitled EGGS. Nervous that her writing isn’t good enough, Angela asks Swensson to take a look at her first chapter. As Swenson begins to read Angela’s writing, he soon finds himself connecting with her writing in ways that he never expected.
Based on Francine Prose’s Blue Angel, Submission is a fascinating film about passion and how it can lead to obsession. While the film tackles some pretty hard hitting subject matters like sexual harassment and political correctness, Richard Levine manages to find the perfect balance of drama and comedy. Submission isn’t the type of film that is laugh out loud funny or a film that will leave you feeling sad or depressed. It is, however, a bold and entertaining film that will spark conversation and debate. It is a film that isn’t afraid to examine envy and personal expectations while dabbling into the taboo topic of student-teacher relationships.
Submission is very reminiscent of a two-person play. While there are several supporting characters, the focus is on Swenson and Angela. They are the glue that holds this film together and Tucci and Timlin are perfectly cast in their roles. It goes without saying that both of these actors are incredibly gifted because they pull off these rather complex characters with such ease. Most of the runtime is spent watching Tucci and Timlin interact with one another which makes for a fascinating experience. Their scenes are sometimes dramatic, sometimes comedic, sometimes awkward but almost always, honest and authentic.
Stanley Tucci embraces the role of Ted Swenson and is easy to get behind despite the troubling decisions that he ultimately makes. You can tell that Richard Levine and Stanley Tucci discussed this story in great detail to make sure that Swenson isn’t being portrayed as the bad guy but rather just a man who is somewhat lost in life. Swenson is happily married but his families past continues to haunt him. There is a scene at a dinner party where Swenson goes off on a rant about the dumbing down of society. It’s one of the film’s many standout moments and Tucci just nails it. Tucci is fully aware that Swenson is a flawed person but not one that is setting out to do bad things. Stenson is bored with the mundane nature of everyday life and is searching for something or someone that will inspire him which is why he is so drawn to Angela and her writing.
Addison Timlin creates a very complex and complicated female protagonist. Angela is a difficult character to play because she has to be portrayed as innocent, smart, and mysterious. Timlin’s performance embraces those characteristics. We don’t get to fully know Angela as a person but that is part of the appeal of the story. Timlin natural innocence mixed with her character’s mysterious backstory makes Angela Argo as a character compelling to watch from start to finish. Angela is confident and strong willed. She is not this wishy-washy female that doesn’t know what she wants. She knows exactly what she is after and is determined to get it no matter what.
While I don’t want to spend much time discussing the supporting cast as this story doesn’t revolve around them, I do want to point out that Janeane Garofalo and Kyra Sedgwick deliver solid work in very small roles. Janeane’s character Magda is a professor who doesn’t see the talent that Swenson sees in Angela’s work. She is the first one to question Angela which leads the audience to start questioning whether Angela is actually talented or just some random student that Swenson is connecting with for some reason or another.
Kyra Sedgwick plays Sherrie, Ted Swenson’s wife. There is an argument between Tucci and Sedgwick that takes place in a restaurant during the final act. This is scene is so perfectly executed from Sedgwick’s performance to the dialogue to the direction. Sedgwick owns this scene but I do wish her character was used more in the film. I get why she isn’t but then don’t cast such a big name to play such a smaller role that barely gets 10 minutes of screen-time. I think it was just so disappointing to see someone with Sedgwick’s talent just appear three or four times for barely a 3 minutes at a time.
Richard Levine, as both a writer and director, touches upon all of the most important elements found in Francine Prose’s Blue Angel. If you read the book or any of the reviews online, a lot of what takes place in the book happens in the film. I do find it odd that the film isn’t called Blue Angel since it is based on the novel and doesn’t vary all that much from it. Regardless, Submission is a good title because it does have a dual meaning when it comes to the events that take place in the film.
Levine’s script definitely feels true to Prose’s novel. Levine manages to capture the tone of the story as well as some of the more satirical elements found in the novel. He does a great job at creating scenes that will make the audience feel uncomfortable and awkward while telling a story that is highly engaging throughout.There are certain plot points that are fairly predictable but there are several surprises that tend to pop up along the way. The fact that the film doesn’t spell everything out for the audience is a big part as to why Submission is so interesting to watch.
All in all, Submission is an entertaining and thought-provoking character study. Tucci and Timlin light up the screen and deliver one of the best performances of their career thus far. Submission tackles a lot of risky subjects but does so in a way that will lead to conversation and debate. I applaud everyone involved for taking on a project that takes a risk and asks the viewer to think. Submission is an indie surprise and one that will be sure to connect with a much wider audience.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel rating for Submission is a 8 out of 10.