dir. Potter
Opens Fri July 15
Fox Tower

Hand it to writer/director Sally Potter--regardless of what you thought of Orlando or The Tango Lesson, she never, ever does anything halfway. True to form, Yes--Potter's visually intricate look at post 9-11 romantic philandering--is incredibly, awesomely pretentious… but, ultimately, in a rather good way.

Feeling stymied by her philandering politician husband (Sam Neill, a marvelously bland monster as always), an Irish-American scientist known only as "She" (Joan Allen) begins an affair with a Lebanese surgeon ("He," played by Simon Abkarian) who's been exiled to London and forced to work as a line cook after the War on Terror. Meanwhile, a nosy housekeeper (the incomparably dipsy-do Scottish actress Shirley Henderson) ruminates endlessly on the everlasting presence of dirt. Oh, and get this--the entire film is spoken in rhyming iambic slang, vaguely reminiscent of rapping. It sounds somewhere between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss.

Throw in numerous blatant digs at the heroine's privileged lifestyle via some overly chatty impoverished extras, and you've got what initially seems like top-notch SCTV fodder. Yet, somehow, it all stays afloat, anchored by Allen's tremendous performance as an eminently sensible woman whose emotions are finally reaching boil. Long an actress notable for her cool reserve (not for nothing was she cast as Pat Nixon), Allen has lately taken roles allowing her to show off a fiercer, sensual side. Here she makes the most of it, particularly in a climactic parking garage confrontation where she brings a mounting venom to her rhymes that Eminem would envy.

Make no mistake: Potter's high-minded, demanding, hermetically sealed style will likely infuriate as many as it entrances. (While talking with Allen during a recent stop in the Northwest, she good-naturedly conceded that, while extremely proud of the film, she's personally witnessed more than her share of walkouts.) Still, the filmmaker's boundless ambition and refusal to tone down her passions comes off as genuinely admirable, especially in this day and age. Better to reach for the stars, and all that.