As the title character in writer-director Amos Kollek’s “Sue,” Anna Thomson offers a haunting portrayal of a lonely Manhattanite who slowly descends into madness. But the indie production itself is an unsatisfying mix of gritty realism, poignant sentiment and scenes that, perhaps inadvertently, play like deadpan comedy. Pic lacks commercial potential, even as a homevideo release, but may generate interest on global fest circuit.
In the opening scene, Kollek establishes his protagonist’s fragile mental state by having Sue encounter an elderly homeless man on a Central Park bench. After a few moments of casual conversation, the man asks to see Sue’s breasts. Initially, Sue is flustered, but too graciously polite to make much of a fuss. Eventually, as though suddenly anxious to enjoy any kind of human contact, she lifts her shirt.Later, Sue spots a handsome stranger in a restaurant. The more she attempts to engage his interest, the more she comes across as desperately needy. She is a fairly attractive woman in her mid-to-late 30s, but her air of detached bewilderment indicates she is perilously close to the edge.
As the drama slowly unfolds, it’s revealed that Sue is an unemployed office worker (with a B.A. in psychology) who spends many of her days going to job interviews that never pan out. She’s behind in rent payments on her Chelsea apartment, and increasingly worried about making ends meet. But when she impulsively accepts a hard-bitten prostitute (Tahnee Welch) as a short-term roommate, she seems to be motivated less by financial concerns than a burning desire for companionship of any kind.
Briefly, Sue’s fortunes take a turn for the better when she reconnects with the fellow she met in the restaurant. Ben (Matthew Powers), a decent enough chap who works as a freelance journalist, becomes genuinely fond of the obviously troubled Sue. But when he’s called away for an assignment in India, Sue’s tenuous grip on reality grows steadily weaker. Refusing the financial help of a friendly barmaid (Tracee Ross), Sue is evicted from her apartment and moves into a sleazy hotel. By the time Ben returns to New York, even he can’t do much to save her.
Kollek doesn’t try to “explain” Sue’s melancholia, nor does he suggest when, if ever, she was better able to cope with life. Her inability to make and sustain human contact is simply presented as a given. Occasionally, she becomes so famished for human warmth that she goes to extremes. In one key scene, Sue comes on to a stranger in a movie house, and has sex with him while the people around them watch the screen. The scene is deeply unsettling because, even though it appears absurdly funny, there’s some doubt as to whether it’s supposed to be funny.
Even when it threatens to tumble into silliness, “Sue” continues to fascinate, primarily due to the sad-eyed gravity of Thomson’s performance. Among the supporting players, Welch is credibly vulgar and brazen, while Powers conveys equal measures of lust, kindness and apprehension as Ben. Tech credits are, by low-budget indie standards, adequate.