The conceit of a ‘Through the Looking Glass’-style meeting between Arbus (Nicole Kidman) and her secretive new neighbour – hirsute ‘Wolf Man’ Lionel (Robert Downey Jr) – is a striking one. But the story of a 1950s housewife struggling to escape her stifling, middle-class life and give expression to her burgeoning artistic vision could not be more conventional. Although absurdly miscast as the fragile, bird-like Arbus, the statuesque Kidman exudes a fluttery, neurotic excitement. As the seductive Lionel, Downey Jr bristles with confidence: at ease with his hairy self, he is also loved and supported by his circle of oddball friends. The neurotic beauty to Lionel’s sexy beast, Arbus trembles on the edge of self-discovery as she crosses into her neighbour’s strange, enticing world.
Shainberg plays fast and loose with the facts, which might have been justified had it led to some profound artistic or psychological insights. As it stands, his film illuminates Arbus’ artistically brilliant, emotionally unstable life for no longer than the popping of a flash bulb.