Now & Later is a bitter anti-American screed dressed up as a psychological character study. Writer-director Philippe Diaz clearly has a low opinion of the United States and would probably hold my opening statement as an example of why. Diaz exhibits nothing but distain for the country and its people, imagining them to be uniformly ignorant and overly defensive in their pride. His film is a not so much an exercise in storytelling, but rather in finger-wagging condescension. He tries to get us to watch by including explicit sex – that way he can preach to us during the down time.
For reasons never quite fully explained, Bill (James Wortham) is a former international banker who was indicted for shady dealings. Rather than face an eight year prison sentence, he skips bail and hides out while figuring out his next move. A friend sets him up to stay temporarily with an illegal immigrant, Angela (Shari Solanis), who works as a nurse at a free clinic. After this basic set up, Now & Later becomes a series of extended conversations between Bill and Angela. Bill represents the American everyman, or at least Diaz’s vision of such a person. Ignorant in every way (he’s never even heard of the Iran-Contra affair), sexually repressed, and completely hypocritical, Bill is an empty vessel waiting to be filled by Angela’s “wisdom.”
Angela is a stereotypical “free spirit” who believes she has all of life’s mysteries figured out. She has no real interest in Bill as a person – she looks down on him, as she does all of America. In fact, she repeatedly refers to Bill dismissively as “you people” (i.e. Americans). Originally from Nicaragua, Angela enjoys the freedoms and benefits of living in America while never having a kind word to say about the country (except for the hippie commune she whored around in when she first arrived). She lectures Bill about all the evils perpetrated by America, pausing only to have sex with him. But nothing she says is particularly illuminating, just standard issue, “Occupy Wall Street,” anti-capitalistic boilerplate. Perhaps Diaz was trying to deliberately antagonize his audience, getting them all riled up and indignant. But anyone with the slightest bit of perspective on world politics and American history will immediately recognize the emptiness of his naïve and wholly unoriginal claptrap.
So unless you happen to be part of a choir that enjoys being preached to, what else of interest does Now & Later hold? Why the sex, of course. After all, America is the most sexually uptight place on earth (at least according to Diaz’s screenplay). So why not liberate them with a dose of explicitness sure to make them run to the closest confessional with tears streaming down their faces? Unfortunately for Diaz, the whole “unsimulated sex in a non-pornographic film” routine has been done before – and much better. At least Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs had the guts to go all the way. In Now & Later, the fellatio, cunnilingus, and masturbation is all real. But the actual intercourse was apparently faked (though there are plenty of shots of Wortham putting on a condom, if that does anything for you). Oh yeah, there’s also a little male-on-male action because according to Angela, we’re all a little gay and it can lead to aggression if we deny it.
The sad part is, Shari Solanis delivers a pretty compelling performance as Angela. The character may be difficult to take seriously, but Solanis manages to sell it in a believable way. She’s way better than the material – and her so-wooden-he’s-petrified costar – but this wasn’t a good choice for making her film acting debut. Speaking of Wortham, he delivers quite possibly the least expressive performance I’ve ever seen from a leading man in a mainstream movie. I think he was probably cast because he didn’t need a fluffer on set to maintain his frequent erections.