Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Think We're Alone Now

Remember that somewhat creepy scene in ‘Ted’ where Giovanni Ribisi gyrates in tight pants to Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’? Imagine that scene extrapolated to an hour. If you feel slightly ill and want to discontinue reading at this point, then go with my blessings, brethren, for there are no hard feelings.

‘I Think We’re Alone’ now tells the parallel stories of Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick, both of whom are obsessed with Tiffany. The nature of their obsession is different, however, the most obvious touchstone being that Jeff has followed her everywhere and made ludicrous declarations of affection (and earned himself a restraining order in the process), while the Tiffany concert that Kelly attends towards the end of the film marks the first time she’s set eyes on the singer outside of videos and magazine article photographs.

Jeff has Aspergers, a capacious memory for ephemera, and comes across – superficially, at least – as gregarious and slightly self-effacing. Kelly identifies as intersex and is taking a long and what seems like a lonely journey towards gender reorientation. Jeff can talk the hind leg off a donkey – hell, the whole sanctuary! – while Kelly often struggles to express herself. Jeff has constructed an elaborate fantasy life where he and Tiff are already best buds, while Kelly is painfully, heartbreaking aware that she’s not apart of Tiffany’s life.

A lot of reviews that I’ve read of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ talk about Jeff as being likeable and sympathetic. Frankly, I found him a pompous windbag and something of a hypocrite, piously courting his pastor’s favour at church then happily swanning off to an erotica convention which Tiffany is attending by dint of her Playboy appearance. Jeff’s late-in-the-game transfer of his affections from Tiffany to Alyssa Milano, almost drooling as he holds up a DVD of ‘Poison Ivy 2’, only serves to point him up as a dirty old man. Aspergers accounts for some of his behaviours, but not all of them, and his wholehearted reliance on incapacity benefits when even his best friend admits he’s perfectly capable of working leaves him with vast quantities of free time on his hands. For a man like Jeff, free time is not necessarily a good thing.

Kelly, depressive and introverted, is also receiving benefits. However, she is a dedicated runner, genuinely seeks friends (albeit struggling socially) and by the end of the film is looking forward to the prospect of gainful employment. A couple of scenes document Kelly as being very close to emotional breakdown, whereas Jeff grins and gabs away throughout the film and doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything. Even reality. Jeff, in short, is the kind of person you can imagine losing his grip on orthodox social behaviours altogether and doing something dangerous (indeed, he was once arrested after trying to woo Tiffany with white chrysanthemums and a samurai sword). With Kelly, whose Tiffany obsession stems from a vision she had while comatose following a cycling accident, you worry for her fragility.

Director Sean Donnelly happily juxtaposes scenes from their lives for 40 minutes before bringing them together to attend a concert. That they don’t really take to each other is painfully evident, but there are none of the fireworks Donnelly was presumably expecting. Nor does Donnelly try to pin down why a two-hit wonder from the late 80s, with only a desperately attention-seeking girlie magazine appearance and a couple of roles in shit movies under the Asylum label as a claim to contemporary relevance, still inspires this degree of fandom. And it’s not just Jeff and Kelly who can’t get enough of her. In an intriguing but unfollowed-up scene, Donnelly films other fans eulogising to camera, including a guy who’s built like a brick shithouse and wouldn’t look out of place at a Pantera gig – the dude almost morphs into a puppy dog as he talks about his idol!

‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ could have been a fascinating look at the Tiffany cult. As it is, she’s an absence rather than a presence; a via negativa, almost. A narrative McGuffin to enable two terribly sad people (Kelly in the sympathetic sense of the word, Jeff not so much) to open up their shadow-lives like a vein in front of the camera.

I use the word “enable” deliberately, because I can’t help feeling that the villain of the piece, the enabler for both of these vulnerable adults, is Donnelly. I’d be very interested in knowing what consent processes were followed in eliciting Jeff and Kelly’s participation, and whether any medical or psychological provision was established during filming or kept in place afterwards. I really, really hope it was.


Elwood Jones said...

A strange film to say the least, I mean how many films are there were stalkers are being actively encouraged. Thankfully for myself it never outstayed it short run time.

I think people warmed towards Jeff more because he doesn't come off so desperate / creepy as Kelly does and frequently seems to be the victim of well meaning intentions being completely wrongly received, as in the case were he turned up with the samurai sword.

Tiffany seems to take meeting both of them rather well it has to be said, while strangely having nothing to say about the film (from what little I could find) which is essentially about two people being encouraged with their obsessional habits.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for commenting, Elwood. In an interview with Vice, the director says that he shot some interview footage with Tiffany but "she was just talking about normal stuff and it kind of takes away the mystery of it all":