Everyone Rejoice, the Pilot of ‘I Love Dick’ Is Absolutely Great
Jill Soloway’s adaptation of Chris Kraus’s novel ticks all the right boxes.
This past Friday, when Jill Soloway’s pilot for I Love Dick—the TV adaptation of Chris Kraus’s cult feminist novel-turned-pop-sensation—hit Amazon Prime’s streaming services, you could almost hear a collective gasp, a mix of anticipation and trepidation.
The moment of truth had finally arrived: would the screen adaptation destroy the spirit of Kraus’s idiosyncratic epistolary novel, or would Soloway—whose deft hand at telling gender-bending stories of dysfunctional relationships was cemented in the two recent seasons of Transparent—be able to preserve its nonconformist essence when bringing it to a mass audience?
So, let’s get this out of the way: the pilot is fantastic. An altogether different work of art for sure, but one that manages to respect and enhance the original material. So good it is, in fact, that the taut 32-minute initial offering left one craving for more, lamenting that the full series has yet to be commissioned (fingers crossed).
One of the triumphs is certainly the casting, led by Kathryn Hahn, who delivers a superb Chris: an indie filmmaker “straddling 40” (as she says), and struggling with both her sexual and artistic desires as well as with the looming shadow of her older, more successful husband. Having heard Kraus herself at talks and readings on a few occasions myself, Hahn’s performance—New York accent included—seems uncannily accurate: quick, witty, funny, and direct. Hahn, who also shone in Transparent as Rabbi Raquel, even looks a bit like a young Kraus.
Meanwhile, Griffin Dunne’s Sylvère might be a little bit too American for an accurate impersonation of Sylvère Lotringer, the French critic, cultural theorist, and founder of publishing house Semiotext(e) who was married to Kraus at the time and who inspired the character. Still, he delivers a very likeable sparring partner: self-involved in his own intellectual work, like most writers are, yet able to see his wife’s increasingly obvious wants and willing to hold her hand and enter uncharted territories together to try to save their marriage.
But it is Kevin Bacon’s Dick who actually steals the show (the actor, not just a pretty face, is also listed in the credits as co-executive producer). As even his own name indicates, Dick is the Lacanian objet petit a in both the novel and the TV show, and Bacon’s handsome, jagged face, lean cowboy body, and macho attitude exudes the perfect amount of aloof sexual charisma that makes Kraus fall for him hook, line, and sinker.
Although I Love Dick’s plot revolves mainly around the lives of these three denizens of the rarefied worlds of art and academia, its beauty lies in that it is a treatise of feelings that will strike a chord with almost anyone: frustrated and unrequited desire, inadequacy, self-entitlement, and loneliness.
The context, however, is one that members of the international art world will be particularly at home with. We first encounter the couple Sylvère and Chris as they hurriedly sublet and leave their flat in a brownstone in New York to move temporarily to Marfa, Texas, where Sylvère has been invited by the mysterious Dick to attend a coveted seminar and a residency program.
Chris is initially just helping him to settle in, but her schedule is upended when the plans for one her films to be screened in Venice get shafted for not having paid the rights to an obscure bossa nova song featured in it (triggering a mini-meltdown).
Shortly after, she meets Dick at a reception—peppered with hilarious art-world chitchat, where lines such as “that wasn’t as bad as the art opening. Just one bad group show, filled with men, and terrible painters” or “I heard the Q&A was very lively!” can be overheard. After a rather awkward introduction, Chris invites Dick to have dinner with Sylvère and her that same night. A rather disastrous outing ensues, during which Dick goes on to make the most lapidary statement of the show so far: “I am post-idea.”
Chris, however, is already lost in the throes of (what we suspect to be) a one-sided passion, and in her quest to both communicate with and beguile Dick, she will enlist Sylvère’s participation, with unpredictable results.
When it was first published in 1997, and after subsequent re-editions, I Love Dick caused a stir due to its gonzo look at female subjectivity, warts and all. In a literary feat not expected from the debut novel of a theretofore filmmaker, Kraus’s fearless look at female “inadequacies” and contradictions, and her willingness to prod the sticky boundaries between fact (her own life) and fiction, managed to both creatively mine her own vulnerabilities (and, by extension, those of women across the globe) and yet retain a degree of control over her own exposure.
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