Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Billed as "an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus," Fur decidedly does have hair on its balls. Director Steven Shainberg (he did the fearless Secretary) had no access to Arbus' famed photos of society's outcasts. So with a script by Erin Cressida Wilson, he imagines what might have turned Arbus, played with more chill than necessary by Nicole Kidman, from a 1950s housewife and mother into a chronicler of the misbegotten and a suicide at forty-eight. Enter the fictional character of Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.), a mysterious figure with a hood who moves into the apartment upstairs. It turns out Lionel suffers from a condition that covers his body with fur. It's Diane's professional and erotic obsession with Lionel and his circle of freaks that defines her career. Downey makes something lively, sexy and moving out of a role that's just a thin concept. But the movie feels like it's still in the darkroom.

From The Archives Issue 345: June 11, 1981
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