I found this quirky comedy quite entertaining. Tied to a Chair tells a story about how relentlessly an actor can pursue artistic fulfillment, or maybe just a job.
The film follows the opening adventures of a middle aged woman responding to a mid-life crisis. Naomi, who gave up hopes of a theatre career to marry a stuffy British civil servant, is known wrongly to her husband as an incompetent because of her domestic inadequacies, whole days being spent ruining dinner and breaking antiques.
In fact, however, Naomi is an accomplished fixer, as writer-director Michael Bergmann has said. If Naomi cannot fix a problem herself, she finds someone who can. Before she leaves her husband she thoughtfully arranges for a friend to see to him, knowing that friend is up to the task. The audience catches on to Naomi’s strengths as slowly as her husband does. Late revelations of her electrical wiring talents and her fluency in Arabic help our understanding of her character, as those talents help the plot.
As the film opens, Naomi has become so lost in domestic ineptitude and marital scolding that she has forgotten her love of theatre. After a final marital scolding, Naomi sets out to fix her own life by renewing her acting career.
Her determination crosses the border into obsession and stalking, and prompts her to several impulsive acts that she, unlike the audience, hardly notices are crimes: auto theft, grand theft, gun violence, kidnapping, and hijacking. Desperate actors have been known to do desperate deeds in pursuit of a part in a film.
While telling this comic story, Tied to a Chair also manages to parody caper movies and international thrillers, play off of iconic scenes like the airfield ending of Casablanca, and allude surely to other cinematic tropes that I missed. Like many Hitchcock protagonists, Naomi is an ordinary person accidentally caught up in a high-stakes criminal plot.
That plot leads to the film’s finest scene, Naomi’s confrontation with a group of suicide-bombers in a Manhattan parking garage. Her ability to befuddle those radicals on matters of theology ends any thought of her being incompetent, as does her gun trick and her hasty scheme to save Manhattan.
Screenwriters are often advised to have their protagonist succeed against all odds by using one fundamental personal strength established early in the film. Naomi succeeds against all odds because she is an actor. She might never get the movie role she desperately wants, but she gets plenty of acting opportunities along the way.
Good indie films usually have a charming eccentricity that compensates for, and often arises out of, the rough corners and loose seams that Hollywood would edit to death. Tied to a Chair has this charming eccentricity. Breathless and other French films of the 1960’s demonstrated the potential power of films that eschew technical perfection in favor of a more overt audience awareness of the director’s style.
Critical reviews of Tied to a Chair are mixed, as always, but this film seems to thrive in independent film festivals. Slant Magazine reviewer Diego Costa misreads a trope when he writes about Naomi’s “erotic bondage fantasy.” Richard Brody, movies editor of The New Yorker’s Goings On About Town, admires the film, especially as an expression of the personality of Michael Bergmann. Like Brody, I look forward to Bergmann’s next film.