States Of Control

From the outside, Lisa (Jennifer van Dyck) looks privileged and happy. Her husband, college professor Abel (Stephen Bogardus), is intelligent and sensitive. They have a nice apartment (no small thing in real-estate mad New York City), and she's writing an autobiographical novel and working at an Off-Off Broadway Theater. But inside, Lisa is screaming. Her...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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From the outside, Lisa (Jennifer van Dyck) looks privileged and happy. Her husband, college professor Abel (Stephen Bogardus), is intelligent and sensitive. They have a nice apartment (no small thing in real-estate mad New York City), and she's writing an autobiographical novel and working at an Off-Off Broadway Theater. But inside, Lisa is screaming. Her husband is impotent, her job is boring and her novel isn't going anywhere, which she suspects is because it's worthless. Into this volatile psychological situation comes Paul (John Cunningham), an authoritarian bully who's directing the theater's new production. Lisa at first resists Paul's ambiguous advances: It's not immediately clear whether he's looking for a lover, an acolyte or a whipping boy. But she gradually falls under the spell of the older man's radical, anarchist philosophy, which comes wrapped in exhortations like, "What I really want to do is burn off all the useless things in your head, because you might be worth it." Under Paul's influence, Lisa begins destroying things — a dollar bill, the disc on which her novel is stored — and experimenting with uncharacteristic behaviors. She watches a porn tape, becomes a vegetarian, stays up for 51 hours at a clip and gives herself shocks by sticking her finger in a light socket. She befriends feisty actress Carol (Ellen Greene), whom Paul fires for insubordination, and with her encouragement Lisa takes a tentative step towards infidelity and touches a gun for the first time in her sheltered life. As her marriage disintegrates and her newfound defiance alienates her old friends, Lisa slips toward a total break with her old life without having formulated a clear plan for her new one. Written, produced and directed by longtime cinematographer Zack Winestine, this psychological drama is driven by admirably complex ideas about psychological manipulation, the legacy of '60s radicalism and the numbing sterility of a life lived entirely through second-hand experience. But while handsomely mounted and generally well acted, the film is undermined by long stretches of awkward, obvious dialogue and by the vagueness of Lisa's revolt against the status quo. Rebelling against "Whatever you've got" is a pose that fits teenagers better than men and women in their '30s, on whom it looks more like an early midlife crisis than a romantic refusal to submit to mainstream society's plastic hassles.

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: From the outside, Lisa (Jennifer van Dyck) looks privileged and happy. Her husband, college professor Abel (Stephen Bogardus), is intelligent and sensitive. They have a nice apartment (no small thing in real-estate mad New York City), and she's writing an… (more)

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