Amazon brought a taste of their upcoming series I Love Dick to Sundance. The three episode selection — episodes 1, 2 and 5 to be specific — wasn’t enough to do a proper review of the debut season, but it was more than enough to form some impressions. And here’s the thing, this sample ultimately left me wanting more.
Once upon a time, the real Chris Kraus wrote a feminist novel called I Love Dick. It was based on her psycho-sexual fixation on a man named Dick, and the impact this had on her worldview and her relationship with her husband, Sylvere Lotringer. It’s a mashup of fiction and memoir that name drops many figures in the art world and lays quite bare Kraus’ thoughts and emotions — or so I understand from what I’ve seen of the adaptation and read on the net. I confess, I haven’t dug particularly deep into the specifics as I quite wish to see how everything unfolds when the rest of the series arrives, though giving the source material a read before May, just may prove too tempting.
The series, which stars Kathryn Hahn and Kevin Bacon, seems quite a faithful adaptation. We meet Chris and Sylvere in New York, they’re packing up and awaiting a subletter before road-tripping to Marfa, Texas. Chris is meant to drop Sylvere there for a fellowship and then jet off to Venice to screen her latest film in a festival. However, when the proverbial other festival shoe drops and she’s boxed out, Chris suddenly finds herself in Marfa for rather longer than expected. And so, she becomes our entree into this curious world of artists and intellectuals all lumped together in rural Texas. Every one of these folks is there at the behest of Dick (Kevin Bacon), a man’s man who is a big to-do in the art world, and represents every inch of the establishment Chris has been fighting for her entire career, if not her entire life.
The show uses voiceover and bold title cards to punctuate key moments with Chris’ thoughts, all in the form of letters to Dick. For instance, when Chris first sees Dick:
THIS IS ABOUT OBSESSION
HOW DID WE NOT KNOW EACH OTHER BEFORE NOW
THIS IS ABOUT ME MISSING YOU EVEN THOUGH I’VE NEVER MET YOU”
And there he is. Dick, a guy who rides a horse around town and struts naked on his parcel of land because he can. His work is blunt and phallic and, of late, nonexistent. Still, he holds himself on as much of a pedestal as everyone around him. Their first meeting begins jovially, but the second Chris mentions a husband, Dick has no more time for her. It’s as if she’s not a dynamic being anymore, just someone else’s wife. She recognizes the dismissal, but this is only the first of many moments in which she will dwell on him. This is the point where the show’s unapologetic female gaze takes hold. Chris appraises Dick, he’s sitting there scruffy, direct, rolling his own cigarettes and wearing a pair of jeans and all of the archetypical cowboy trappings like he’s doing them a favor. He has magnetism and swagger, and in spite of herself, she can’t shake him. And so, the nature of the show begins to unfold, it’s not about Dick, per se, it’s about Dick’s impact — on Chris and her life, as well as other women in town.
Kathryn Hahn quickly sheds the familiar images of her Saturday Night Live character, transforming completely into Chris and waxing intellectual and modernist. It’s a different look for Hahn and it is refreshing to see her get a chance to flex her dramatic muscles. Roberta Colindrez has a much more limited role in the episodes I watched, but she makes a strong impression as Devon — Chris’ neighbor, confidant and a fellow admirer of Dick, albeit for quite different reasons. This sneak peak also gave us a brief look at Phoebe Robinson as Suki — the woman tasked with keeping everything running at the institute. It’s too early to know how significant her role will be, but the hints we’ve been given suggest a character with a past worth exploring.
I opened this article with a note that I had a taste of I Love Dick, now you have my impressions, and my hope that the remaining episodes are as captivating as I found the first few. But, as if to point out how little I still know, the IMDB description of the show’s plot came as a surprise to me. So my impressions and I will just have to wait and see how things develop.
As for what I actually know, it amounts to the following. If you’re not on board for a journey of self-discovery, sexual and otherwise, now is the time to bail out. However, if the human condition holds a measure of fascination for you, pay attention, you’re going to love Dick too.