Plush is a trashy, rock ’n’ roll beach-read of a movie, the sort of thing that might suck in a viewer who flips it on at 2 a.m. while surfing premium cable channels after a long night at the club. But the next morning, in the bright light of day, that viewer might not recall much about Plush at all, since the film is about as memorable as a generically lurid music video, precisely the kind in which Plush’s rock-star protagonist appears.
That protagonist is Hayley (Emily Browning), a 19-year-old frontwoman in a band that bears a faint resemblance to Paramore, whose lead singer is also a woman named Hayley. Initially, Hayley and her brother Jack serve as the dual creative engine for a band called Plush. But then Jack dies of an overdose, leaving his sister, now also a wife and the mother of twins, to simultaneously grieve and attempt to push Plush in new musical directions. Sales of the latest CD are down, and Plush 2.0 is getting slammed by the critics—including those at (gasp!) The Dissolve’s sister site, Pitchfork—when Enzo (Xavier Samuel) prowls into Hayley’s life, becoming the band’s new guitarist and her sex-muse. “Nobody can replace my brother,” Hayley tells a Spin magazine reporter early in the film, telegraphing to the audience that this is exactly what Enzo will try to do, in ways that will become increasingly disturbing.
Catherine Hardwicke—the same filmmaker who, exactly a decade ago, made such a promising debut with Thirteen—clearly thinks she’s bringing her signature youthful punk-energy to this lightweight thriller. But her attempts fall flat, dragged down by a vapid screenplay (Hardwicke co-scripted with Arty Nelson) and characters who wear their leather and eyeliner with flair, but seem as genuinely rock star-ish as a co-worker who shows up on Halloween in an Ace Frehley costume.
Browning and Samuel—made up to look like less-flamboyant, more dangerous versions of Adam Lambert—do all the things they’re supposed to do to convey “sexy”: they moan, part their beautiful lips, and rip off their alterna-rock ensembles. When their relationship spirals into weird places, they walk through the screaming-and-creepy motions of that behavior, too. But it all seems so calculated and contrived that there’s no way to see it as anything other than two actors playing a game of MTV After Dark dress-up. The film does deserve some credit for its final 15 minutes, which whip out plot reveals at a rate that’s so ridiculous, it becomes almost pleasurable. Otherwise, Plush fails to be a turn-on: It’s all surface and zero substance, with limp attempts at shock value.
That’s extra-disappointing, because as spotty as Hardwicke’s track record has been, more is expected from her. She could have built this basic story framework into both a campy thriller and a smart commentary on a music industry that spits out its talent and convinces women they must exploit themselves to stay relevant. Instead, Plush is just a B-movie B-side that few will take note of, a modern riff on Fatal Attraction that shoots for edgy, and lands on silly.