March 01, 2013

Eating Raoul

In Eating Raoul (1982), a couple of squares named Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov) are desperately trying to improve their circumstances in life. He's a wine merchant and she's a nutritionist, but they've got their eyes on a house where they can open up their very own restaurant, Paul and Mary's Country Kitchen. They're so square they sleep in separate beds, and the 1950's style decor in their Los Angeles apartment suggests that they're displaced persons, stuck in the wrong decade.

Paul and Mary hit on an idea (no pun intended) one evening after a sex maniac storms into their apartment and Paul accidentally kills him with a frying pan. What if they lured swingers into their home with salacious personal adds? They could collect the money and dispose of a pervert all in one night. Pretty soon they're "bopping perverts" left and right, and keeping the cash their victims have on them, disposing of the bodies in the apartment trash compactor. But a suave young thing named Raoul (Robert Beltran) soon enters their lives (he's a professional thief with all kinds of criminal connections). Raoul is everything Paul is not, and Mary finds herself unexpectedly turned on by him. They agree to let him go into business with them (he sells the bodies and also makes off with the victims' cars, selling them for cash), but there's tension between Raoul and Paul, who's threatened by Raoul's swarthy manliness.

Eating Raoul is a thinly conceived black comedy, but it's got a certain charming weirdness to it that might come off as entertaining, depending on the viewer's tastes. It's not a particularly well-made movie. Bartel, who also directed and co-wrote the film (sharing a screenwriting credit with Robert Blackburn), doesn't have a knack for setting up scenes, and the film's low budget surely proved a limitation. But what it lacks in panache and slick filmmaking, it tends to make up for in weirdness. This is people-watching turned into a film. Bartel does have a knack for letting weird characters develop funny little vignettes. (There's one particularly funny scenario in which Mary plays the blonde prisoner of a Nazi general.)

This movie is, like a John Waters film, in love with bad taste. Moreover, it reveals the hypocrisy of conventional middle class values in a way that doesn't divorce its main characters from their likability. Paul and Mary are so out of sync with the rest of the world, and so matter-of-fact about what they're doing, that it's hard not to like them. Mary Woronov has a few weak moments: her voice is perfect for normal talking, but when she's trying to act threatened, it gets shrill and loses all conviction. She's much better when she's in control than when she's playing a victim. She's a commanding presence at times, and she knows how to play lines deadpan. Bartel taps into this cult movie icon's sexy comic abilities, and she and he--in addition to Raoul--make an endearingly oddball team.

With Edie McClurg, Ed Begley, Jr., Susan Saiger, and Buck Henry. 82 min.

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