Reel Women: ‘Some Velvet Morning’ Is a Jarring Critique of Male Expectations and Entitlement
Neil LaBute’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’ stars Alice Eve as Velvet, a high-priced escort treated to a surprise afternoon visit by her former love interest, Fred (Stanley Tucci), who has just left his wife. But as the afternoon progresses and the history between the two comes into focus, a darkness blooms. This clever, jarring film examines the expectations placed on women, the roles we choose for ourselves, relationship ideology, and if our allowances entitle others to more than we are willing to give.
Expectations breed resentment. It’s a simple truth, but one that’s often overlooked in the selfish pursuit of desire. When Fred leaves his wife and shows up unannounced at Velvet’s door, he comes loaded with expectations from his former mistress and escort: that she, the only other woman to grant him affections, would welcome him with open arms and reward him for leaving a wife he betrayed is but the first of many.
Velvet’s profession as an escort is of immense importance because it heightens existing gender conflicts. There are already basic expectations placed on women in society. There already exist privileged white men who feel entitlement. What is the ultimate scenario in which both of these elements are exacerbated? A married man leaves his wife to be with his former mistress, who happens to be an escort, but she has no interest in being in a relationship with him. Velvet did have feelings for Fred, but she’s also an escort, and those feelings occurred years ago. Fred comes to her as if she’ll still be waiting, as if all women merely pause their lives for men, as if when they walk out the door, our lives stop until they return; when they are not around, we simply do not exist.
The afternoon’s conversation escalates in intensity and subsides in tender waves — the two remember why they were fond of each other before reminders of Velvet’s life outside of Fred push up around the edges, and his entitlement rages again. As the minutes tick on, we wonder why Velvet simply doesn’t leave, but it’s her home and that would be a submission to Fred’s unwelcome dominance; it would be defeat. We wonder why Velvet doesn’t call the cops, but her lifestyle, as Fred reminds her, isn’t exactly legal, and there would be too many questions to answer and too much to lose.
With an escort, a man feels a certain sense of certainty: here is a woman whose job it is to say yes and never say no, to make him feel good and wanted and desired. A particularly good escort can make you forget that you’re paying for this service, this companionship. An exchange of cash for goods and services rendered can start to feel an awful lot like love. The more we get to know Velvet, the more we understand that it’s not just about money for her, either — there are genuine feelings involved, but ultimately, it’s about knowing your mark and playing your part.
But Fred idealizes Velvet, as all men idealize women, in a way — as all people idealize relationships, really. The escort is intended to be the ideal woman on a temporary basis; a casual respite, not a long-term solution. The relationship shared between Fred and Velvet, although it was between a man and his escort, isn’t much different than that between any two people in a conventional pairing: we choose what we want to share, we obscure what might hurt, and when things fall apart we dig for the seeds of truth in the rubble. Just because Velvet is an escort doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some grain of truth to what was shared between them; just because someone cheats on you or lies to you, doesn’t mean that every breath was a lie.
But ‘Some Velvet Morning’ isn’t content to just examine some very basic concept about entitlement. While ruminating on expectations, Neil LaBute does something incredibly clever: he inverts them entirely, putting a very fine point on his thesis. A jarring sequence late in the third act feels like the inevitable culmination of the preceding hour, before LaBute goes one further with an even more discomforting denouement, that calls into question our very own expectations about roles and relationships, permissiveness and ideology — and yet it still reinforces everything that came before it. Here is still a man who feels entitled to take from a woman who has found a place for herself by manipulating a traditional gender role. We leave these characters wanting to know even more about who and why they exist as they are than when we met them, and yet we feel as though we already know them so well because underneath every pile of lies is a kernel of truth.