Looking back at Joel Schumacher’s Flawless

Joel Schumacher recruited Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman for his lower-key 1999 movie Flawless. We continue our look back at the man's career right there...

“Well life’s a bitch, so I became one honey!” – Rusty

The Recap

As the 90s drew to a close, Joel Schumacher could look back to a mixed bag of success and failure. Having managed to hit the nail on the head with projects such as Falling Down and A Time To Kill, he also hit some huge bum notes in the shape of the Batman franchise.

Having gone back to a more dramatic style of filmmaking with 8MM, he continued the trend with his last film of the decade, which looks at the unlikely relationship between a homophobic cop and a transsexual.

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Walt ‘The Wall’ Koontz (Robert De Niro) is a retired security guard who left his job being well liked and respected. He is also very old school in his thoughts and is homophobic and bigoted in his views, so it is just as well his neighbour is a pre-op transsexual called Rusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman). There is no love lost between the two and their paths never cross.

One night, gangster’s rampage through the apartment block in search of some missing money they are sure is hidden there. When Walt tries to stop them, he suffers a major stroke, which causes him to be partly paralysed and his speech to be badly affected. Suicidal about his condition, his doctors recommend taking singing lessons to help build his speech back up and who could offer such lessons? Well, Rusty, of course.

At first the two can barely stand each other and it is only the fact that Walt is so ashamed of his condition that he has turned to this stranger, as they both live in the same building. Rusty also has his reasons for wanting to help Walt, as he is the person who stole the money the gangsters were looking for, so he can finally have his gender correction operation and finally become a woman.

As with all films in this genre, as the lessons continue the two become unlikely friends and as Walt’s condition improves their friendship blossoms, with Walt becoming more open and Rusty discovering what kind of person he really wants to be.

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The two work together to their different goals, Walt to recover enough to go back to his bar and dance with the woman he realises he is in love with, and Rusty to win best drag queen at the ‘Flawless’ pageant.

After hearing Rusty has been attacked by the same thugs that caused his stroke, Walt goes to protect him and the two fight them off, but not before Walt is injured.

Realising his friendship is worth more than his personal quest to become female, Rusty pays for Walt’s treatment and is happy in the knowledge that his friend can live another day.

Thoughts & Reaction

Flawless is not the sort of film you expect from Schumacher and, really, I am still at a bit of a loss at what to make of it.

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Firstly, trying to find where it fits into the grand scheme of things is a bit of a conundrum. All the signs point to this being an indie Sundance darling. However, once you actually get into watching the movie, it is more a run of the mill buddy story that Hollywood never does seem to get tired of and only really throws up stereotypes more than actually delving more into what makes the characters who they are and why they think and act the way they do.

More back-story would have given a far more authentic feel than just going down the old style over substance route.

This could be attributed to many things. However. and firstly we need to take a good hard look at the script. Although the main story arc is this ‘unusual’ friendship built up between Walt and Rusty, there are no fewer than five other smaller plots running in conjunction. which makes the film confusing at times and messy throughout.

It seems as if every idea they thought of was added just to make the story more interesting, when, if they had focused on the relationship between the two men, you would have ended up with a much stronger and fulfilling film. 

Saying that, however, I cannot take away from the really two fantastic lead performances by Hoffman and De Niro, who encompass their roles with a mix of grace and guts.

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By the late 90s, it seemed to be that De Niro’s best days had fallen behind him and that really is a statement I stick by (especially if they insist on releasing more of those Meet The Parents sequels), and although this is no Raging Bull, it does push him a bit more than some of the more recent roles he has taken on and you get a glimpse of the genius that still lies within him.

Seymour Hoffman unleashes his inner diva to play Rusty and, although I did sometimes feel it was all going a bit to Jerry Springer, when it mattered he managed to pull the performance out of the bag and I even think I spotted a bit of his character Scotty J from Boogie Nights making an appearance now and again.

Sadly, the supporting cast didn’t manage to live up to what was needed and if anybody felt like a stereotype it was them. Flashy drag queens and over-the-top gangers does not a good film make and this was the biggest let down of the entire movie.

Style-wise, I felt Schumacher played it very safe again and went for his usual gritty stance, which felt like it was becoming old very quickly and, although it worked nicely for a movie like Falling Down, this needed to be a bit softer.

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When it was released, Flawless received a mix bag of reviews from the critics and didn’t really make as much of an impact on audiences as Schumacher would have wanted, and with a limited release didn’t even make its money back at the box office.

His next movie would again take a huge step away from anything he had done before and next time I will be looking at Tigerland.

Flawless Key Info:

Released: 26th November 1999 (US)Distributed By: MGMBudget: $27,000,000Box Office Gross: $4,485,485