The Movie Waffler New Release Review - MANODROME | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MANODROME

Manodrome review
A troubled man is introduced to a misogynistic cult.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Trengrove

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Adrien Brody, Odessa Young, Sallieu Sesay, Philip Ettinger, Ethan Suplee, Evan Jonigkeit, Caleb Eberhardt

Manodrome poster

South African writer/director John Trengrove follows up his acclaimed 2017 debut The Wound with a disastrous transition to American filmmaking in Manodrome. Like The Wound, it's another story of an alienated gay man seeking kinship, but in tying this idea into the incel movement, Trengrove finds himself in waters he's incapable of convincingly navigating.

Manodrome review

A buffed up Jesse Eisenberg plays Ralphie, a loner who was recently fired from his job and now ekes out a living as a rideshare driver. Yes, the allusions to Taxi Driver are that thuddingly obvious. Living with a pregnant girlfriend (Odessa Young) from whom he's become increasingly estranged, Ralphie is only a loner in the sense that he desires male companionship. At his gym he can't help staring at Ahmet (Sallieu Sesay), an African man who teases Ralphie, fully aware of how he's tortured by his sexuality.

It may be somewhat derivative, but there's enough there for the makings of an intriguing examination of male insecurity. Trengrove's film becomes confused and directionless when Ralphie is introduced to a cult of men lead by Dad Dan (Adrien Brody). Based in Dan's impressively large house on the outskirts of the city, the men have a half-baked philosophy centred on rejecting the company of women, or as they call it, the "gynosphere." Like recovering alcoholics at an AA meeting, they boast about how long it is since they last had intercourse with a member of the opposite sex.

Manodrome review

The whole setup is so laughable that it might have made for a smart black comedy, but Trengrove makes the terrible decision to play this scenario with a straight face. The sombre lighting and music tell us we're watching a very gritty drama, but it's impossible to take Manodrome seriously. Dad Dan and his cult are simply too underdeveloped for us to accept them. Trengrove takes his cues from Fight Club in a scene in which the cult members mosh to heavy metal music in an almost homoerotic ritual, but that's as much insight into how the cult functions as we're offered. Aside from the closeted Ralphie, none of the other members appear to be gay, which makes you wonder why they would purposely deny themselves sexual contact with women. Incels may hate women, but aren't they obsessed with the idea of treating them as sexual objects?

Manodrome review

Early on Ralphie rifles through Chekhov's drawing room and discovers his gun, leaving us in little doubt as to where the narrative is headed. If Trengrove is giving us a character study of the sort of troubled young men who are increasingly shooting startling numbers of people in the US, he's not doing a very convincing job. Unlike the tortured protagonist of the similarly themed but far superior recent indie drama The Mental State, we never get inside Ralphie's head. This isn't the fault of Eisenberg, who gives a deeply committed performance. There's something unsettling about seeing the actor's head on the buff body of a frat bro in arrested development, and Esienberg astutely weaves his contradictory physicality into his performance, always holding his chin up like someone desperate to be able to look down on others. But we're never able to penetrate Ralphie's aloofness. It's as if there's nothing inside him, as though he literally has no soul. Maybe that's the point, but it doesn't make sense that a man this vapid would have ever found himself in the position of being able to acquire a girlfriend, let alone convince her to have his child.

 is on UK/ROI VOD from February 5th.

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