I Love Dick review: ‘I haven’t read a book in 10 years. I’m post-idea’

In Jill Soloway's new show, a sexually-spent couple devise an erotic game over their desire for Dick, an unreconstructed cowboy-artist-academic, who claims to be "post-idea". Are they all post-clue?

Kevin Bacon stars in 'I Love Dick' a new show from Amazon in which a married couple's relationship is put to the test when both the husband and wife fall for the same male professor. Video: Amazon Prime Video

 

There’s something about Dick. First seen riding his stallion to the grocery store, in a sun scorched Marfa, Texas, there he is in his denims and white Stetson, a near parody of unreconstructed machismo and accomplishment. Dick is a cowboy, an artist, an academic and – perhaps proudest among his achievements – he is played by Kevin Bacon. At once rugged and boyish, Dick welcomes new residents to his desert campus – among them the frazzled New York couple, Chris (Kathryn Hahn) and Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) – proudly informing them, “I haven’t read a book in ten years. I’m post-idea.”

In I Love Dick (now streaming on Amazon Prime), a new comedy based on Chris Krause’s confessional cult novel from Jill Soloway, creator of the exquisite Transparent, it’s hard to tell whether the post-idea paradigm is Dick’s triumph or his tragedy. Is Dick also post-clue?

Either way, it makes Dick a kind of blank canvas for Chris’s erotic projections, who, as a filmmaker recently ejected from a festival, is currently without any other available screens. Her marriage to Sylvere, a preening, older Holocaust scholar (“There’s something new afoot,” he says, rather hopefully), has reached a sexual impasse, and so they decide to let Dick come between them.

Chris, whom the show regards as remarkably untalented, writes panting missives of sexual fantasy addressed to Dick: “This is about obsession,” she breathes heavily, and the words leap out in block white lettering on a blazing red background – the show’s signature. “This is about me missing you before I ever met you.”

Hanging from a clothesline in their bedroom, like an installation of epistolary desire (or post-office, if you will), the letters bring back amperage to the couple’s love life. Then Chris, whose agitated fantasies are really more goal-oriented, goes ahead and sends them.

Soloway is no stranger to the politics of gender and desire, but I Love Dick is a little too arch for its own good. Taking pot shots at pretentious academics is easy enough, but meaner ones aimed at female film artists (much mystifying found footage is included), while Chris’s obsessions are played less as a feminist liberation of sexual want, and more for mortifying laughs.

Dick, moreover, is precisely that: insulting and disparaging, disinterested and self-involved. In one thing, though, Chris is on top, and a later episode in which four female characters narrate their own take on Dick, asserts that sly creative power. In their thoughts of Dick, lubriciously or aggressively articulated, the women unleash vivid internal lives, while Bacon’s Dick, all slick surface, is hollow and impenetrable. Other than that, however, the show has not much else to offer. Or, as the Dicks of the world might put it, it quickly becomes post-idea.

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