Content Note: rape, child abuse, pedophilia, racism, ableism
Charlotte (Allison Williams) used to be a promising cellist at the Bachoff academy, the famous music school, until she had to quit as a teenager to take care of her ill mother. Quite a few years later now, her mother has finally passed and Charlotte flies to Shanghai where she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), the school’s new star, and her old mentors Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman). There is an instant spark between Charlotte and Lizzie and Lizzie invites Charlotte to come with her on a trip through China the next day. That trip proves to be rather more fateful for them than expected.
The Perfection starts off well enough, but then it starts to fall over itself in attempts to be clever that ultimately derail the entire film.
The beginning of The Perfection really is very strong – Charlotte’s meeting with Lizzie, the tension that grows between them, the way they seem inexorably drawn to each other, but you suspect that there is more to their motives than just attraction. Things go pretty well (apart from the weird “Chinese bug” thing that smacks a little bit of racism, especially in the context of the Corona pandemic, of which the film, of course, couldn’t have known at the time) up to and including the first plot twist.
But then things fall apart a little, and not just because it tries to surprise you with the same tricks. When the story returns to the Bachoff Academy and the film throws everything sensationalist at the story that it can think of – cults, and rape, and child abuse, and pedophilia – and is really callous, especially with the latter three incredibly sensitive topics. That treatment pretty much ruined the film for me. All through the last half hour or so, I was considering just turning it off.
It also sensationalizes and to a certain extent fetishizes disabilities, another element that left me very uncomfortable about the film (like Charlotte’s “Chinese-inspired” cultural appropriation dress).
It is a sleek-looking film and Williams and Browning have excellent chemistry with each other. But I would have liked the film to take more care with the story its telling instead of jumping at any chance to titillate.
Summarizing: didn’t work.