Chained for Life
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Chained for Life

There’s something very East Coast about the introductory moments of writer-director Aaron Schimberg’s singular meta-melodrama Chained for Life. A lengthy, very gushy Pauline Kael quote about the resplendent good looks of actors and actresses slowly rolls up a black screen, accompanied by a string-plucking score by C. Spencer Yeh that seems arch and contemptuous. It’s got the feel of a sneering warning shot. To wit: “Oh, that’s your definition of beauty, Pauline? Well, get a load of this!” A subsequent performer credit — “Keith Poulson as An Asshole” — seemingly narrows the perspective further to the Brooklyn DIY filmmaking scene. It’s hardly surprising that Chained for Life received its world premiere at a Kings County institution, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual BAMCinemaFest.

But the threatened navel-gazing quickly gets nipped in the bud. First, because of the movie’s opening shot, a slow, serpentine and luxuriantly opulent track along a vaguely European hospital hallway. (Truly bigger than life work by cinematographer Adam J. Minnick.) And second, in the way Schimberg utilizes the shot to give his lead actress, Jess Weixler, playing what appears to be a shell-shocked mental patient, an entrance that acts as an in-motion complement to Kael’s observations. Indeed, she glows with that very splendor that the former New Yorker critic describes in effusive spasms. The initial sense of contempt toward Kael remains, but it’s now complicated by a gesture so heartfelt and genuine that it leaves us on thrillingly shifty ground.

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