A fine cast scuttles around, to rapidly diminishing returns, in London-set dramedy “Chromophobia,” an over-long ensembler set among a bunch of self-absorbed neurotics that starts as a wannabe comedy and later expects auds to sympathize with its characters’ plight. Sophomore outing by writer-director Martha Fiennes (“Onegin”) could marginally profit from curiosity over its tony cast, but its highest profile may turn out to be its selection as closing film of the 58th Cannes fest, where it followed in the line of recent duds like “De-Lovely” and “Ladies and Gentlemen…”
Pic starts out in promising fashion as it rapidly intros a raft of characters in ironic style. An eight-year-old boy, Orlando (Clem Tibber), watches a breast-implant video, while his mom, art dealer Iona Aylesbury (Kristin Scott Thomas), concentrates on her zen exercises in their post-modern, minimalist home, all glass frontage and white walls.
Iona’s husband, Marcus (Damian Lewis), is a financial lawyer who, to his great surprise, is suddenly elevated to partner in his snooty City firm. On the fringes of the family is Stephen Tulloch (Ralph Fiennes, brother of helmer Martha), a pedophile art historian who’s godfather to the introverted, mixed-up Orlando.
Also in the mix is Marcus’ old friend, Trent (Ben Chaplin), an investigative journalist who’s being harried for a real story by his bitch-on-wheels boss; and, at a much lower end of the income scale, single Spanish mom Gloria Ramirez de Arroyo (Penelope Cruz), who moonlights as a hooker and whose case is assigned to newbie social worker Colin (Rhys Ifans).
Cross-cutting between all these characters — including Marcus’ dad, retired judge Edward (Ian Holm), and Marcus’ rose-pruning stepmother, Penelope (Harriet Walter) — film seems to position itself as a wry comedy on screwed-up achievers, with Gloria and Colin’s story in there for, uh, social balance. But it soon becomes clear that Martha Fiennes’ uninspired direction — very different from her sweeping, Russian-set costumer “Onegin” — and forcedly witty dialogue just isn’t jelling consistently on any level. (In a possible first, pic’s d.p. is credited with “additional screenplay material.”)
Things turn much more serious after the halfway point as Marcus gets drawn into illegal financial maneuvers by a high-up politico; Trent decides to break his friend’s confidence and publish the details; Stephen’s propensity for young male flesh proves his undoing; and the sexually frustrated Iona obsesses about whether to have a boobs job. Viewers are then expected to become emotionally involved with them.
Aside from Scott Thomas, who has her comic moments as brittle, shopaholic Iona, most of the cast are leveled by the script and the pic’s lack of comedic or dramatic rhythm. Ralph Fiennes tiptoes through the role of the gay godfather; Lewis is considerably better in the first half than second; Chaplin competently incarnates a typical movie-style journo; and Cruz, despite performing a pole-dance in her scanties, leaves no impression at all.
Lensing by George Tiffin is pro but no more, and Magnus Fiennes’ score fails to provide much shape or viewer involvement. Use of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony over the final reel seems more an act of artistic desperation than anything else. Title refers to a color-changing art installation that Iona buys to hang on her living-room wall.