Amazon‘s I Love Dick, much like the Chris Kraus novel from ’97, is often brilliant, and at the very least explores life and love with a degree of honesty that is practically taboo, but suffers from a prison of perspective similar to the one it calls out itself in relation to women filmmakers. Just as Chris (Kathryn Hahn) drives herself down a rabbit hole involving the ability of women to make films when they have to make them as people who grew up suffering from society’s oppression, I Love Dick struggles to deconstruct relationships, longing, self-worth, self-actualization, and so much more from, and by way of, the perspectives of people who think readymades are art and an in-depth analysis of some truly odd porn is deep thought.
There is much to love in the adaptation, especially Hahn’s charismatic aplomb, but there’s little to take away in the end, which wouldn’t be a problem, except that it thinks it’s dropped some heavy reality on you… man.
The story is that of Chris and her husband, Sylvere (Griffin Dunne), and their fantastically odd encounter with the titular Dick (Kevin Bacon). We meet the couple as they embark on an adventure that is supposed to have them going in separate directions for a time. They are traveling to Marfa, Texas where Sylvere is going to become Dick’s fellow, the meaning of which is never made entirely clear. Dick is a minimalist artist. Sylvere is a historian and philosopher of sorts. Meanwhile, Chris is supposed to be moving on to a film festival where her latest creation has been accepted, but she runs into snag at the last minute when it turns out she hasn’t acquired the rights to the music she’s used.
Chris and Sylvere’s relationship is in a somewhat rocky place, and upon meeting Dick, Chris is instantly obsessed with him. We watch as her obsession meets every new event, whether he shows interest her or questions her ability as an artist, by redoubling itself. Dick soon becomes everything to her, and I mean that in the artsiest of ways. She takes to writing letters to him, using him/them as a sounding board for her attempt to flail at everything about life, and to let loose her lustful thoughts and feelings, which seem only in part to be directed at him.
When Sylvere finds the letters, they spark a new fire in the couple, but nothing seems capable of sufficiently feeding Chris’ obsession, and her behavior escalates the closer she gets to Dick.
On the periphery, Dick’s other fellows add their perspectives on life, love, and art to the mix, mostly to deliver small doses of compare-and-contrast and to help facilitate the whole thing becoming its own performance art. Of course, bookending the episodes with narration, videos of performance art pieces, and/or random visuals helps the performance art cause as well, but is also indicative of the broader failings inherent in the effort.
Whatever those failings may be, they don’t keep Hahn’s performance, or Chris’ generalized struggle, from being well worth the trip. The more the show feels compelled to provide the art world setting, the more it takes away from Chris’ identity crisis, and you have to wonder if an adaptation that spent more time with Chris might have delivered better. That said, there is an honesty in Chris’ portrayal that nearly serves to redefine the word, and that is something of a shift from the original work. In that sense, the show isn’t exactly about what the book is about, but is instead about the book. It isn’t an exploration of love, lust, agency, and/or the societal maneuverings that shape us, not precisely anyway. It’s an exploration of the psyche that looks at a guy for five seconds and thinks it is pursuing such an exploration. It isn’t about the character that writes “love letters” to a man she doesn’t know, and moreover, thinks she is creating art in the process. It’s about what that character is actually doing.
When Hahn and Bacon, together or separately, are letting you into a conversation that is simply trying to figure out what is going on in their minds and lives, I Love Dick is among the best shows you’ll find. It’s hard to tell where the metaphor is meant to begin or end, and it’s a no-holds-barred spill of emotion that wonders about things like sociopathy and self-delusion because it’s hard to know what to do with the words if the referent is everyone.
But, when it loses focus it unravels, and there’s too much of it that is purposely out of focus.