If you are watching a naked woman taking a shower and what is communicated is not only sexuality but also power and confidence, then the performance of the actress certainly has to be credited. But writer-director James Toback also knows how to film Neve Campbell in the opening scene of "When Will I Be Loved," giving her character the time and space to make even the most juvenile minded viewers realize that there is much more than a naked body in a really great looking shower area being displayed for their gratification, whether they want to admit as much or not.
Juxtaposed with Campbell's Vera taking a shower are scenes of Fred Weller's Ford on the streets of New York, using his cell phone to hustle some deals. This montage suggests a connection and we discover Ford is Vera's boyfriend. The relationship seems one of fire and ice, for Ford is always in motion, always trying to work and con, and Vera is calm, cool, and collected. It is not until we see them making love that we have any real idea of what she gets out of the relationship, because Vera comes from money and does not need Ford to take care of her. But the idea that Vera is smarter than Ford is key to what happens in this film, as is the idea that she is as much of a con man as he is, just more subtle and decidedly more effective.
Ford's latest target is Count Tomasso Lupo (Dominic Chianese), an Italian millionaire media mogul, but all of the hustler's overtures are rebuffed until the Count sees Vera. The count is a creature of instinct and after seeing Vera a couple of times he makes Ford a counteroffer: $100,000 to sleep with Vera. At this point we are all thinking "Indecent Proposal" and the parallels are so obvious that the characters talk about that film as a reference point. But this time around we are in the realm of film noire and the rich guy is not the predator.
The DVD features "Scene Sexplorations: Vera's Sexcapades," in which the director and actress talk specifically about the four sex scenes in the film: "A Nice Hot Shower," "Girlfriends," "Ford's Big Score," and "A Tryst With a Twist." What is interesting is how they analyze all of the erotica in terms of Campbell's character, while still acknowledging the irony your first scene in a film being show naked taking a shower and, ah, having fun. My initial thought was that these scenes were more erotic than they were sexual, and I am still leaning that way, but Toback and Campbell are correct. Ultimately all four of these scenes are key moments of insight into Vera's character, each a piece of the puzzle that explains why the end game in "When Will I Be Loved" plays out the way that it does.
Do not be distracted by some of what Toback throws in the way. You can make Lori Singer's appearance fit, but you might strip a few gears trying to make sense of Mike Tyson claiming he is not Mike Tyson in this one. "Vera's Sexcapades" really are the best parts of the film because they are at the center of the film. The best scene is the verbal dance that Vera and Tomasso have when they are finally alone together in her apartment. You can make the argument that the Count is also a con-man, but with an elegance that Ford would never appreciate. Vera not only appreciates that level, she can play there, and when she learns what Ford has not told her about the situation she decides to play her own game.
I like the idea that Vera basically changes direction on the fly, but if the ending of "When Will I Be Loved" is not contrived it is certainly extremely convenient. But this film comes down to Vera's character and Campbell's performance (although her nudity probably got more press). Vera remains a woman of mystery at the end, but if we never understand why she wants to be the assistant to Hassan al-Ibrahim ben Rabinowitz, professor of African-American studies, we know why she puts Ford and Tamasso through the wringer, and that is more important to the plot. Hopefully Campbell's performance will help her move beyond the Scream Queen stage, because she has several nice moments in this 2004 film and when I say her best moments are often when she is not talking I am still talking about her performance, no matter what the adolescent boys of America might think.