1) Both movies substituted sex for plot; this might’ve kind of worked in an era before Internet porn and HBO (and both also show why HBO’s original shows are successful), but these days people who want to see naked people are only a click away.
2) I mostly agree with Dan Kois in “Shame should be ashamed of itself,” especially when he compares it to The Social Network, which didn’t seem to have inherently riveting material—it’s a movie about a bunch of guys who type for a living—but is riveting. Notice this paragraph:
Shame [. . .] feels fraudulent in every way, from its gleaming surfaces to its laughably overblown soundtrack to the perfect teardrop rolling over Michael Fassbender’s perfect cheekbone in that perfect lounge where, in real life, no one would ever let Carey Mulligan sing a shoe-gaze “New York, New York.” Oh and what about the scene where he jogs to classical music? Or the part where his addiction drags him so deep into hell that he (gasp) gets a blowjob from a dude in a dimly-lit sex club? (As the writer Bryan Safi noted on Twitter, “I’d love to see a movie where a strung-out gay guy sinks so low and degrades himself so much for his addiction, he hooks up with a woman.”)
Shame has nothing to do with actual addiction, or the actual New York, or even actual human beings.
Yet Shame has gotten decent reviews, for reasons not obvious to me. Ditto for Sleeping Beauty. Are critics merely happy to have something other than blowing-shit-up-and-punching-bad-guys movies? To be fair, this is part of what inspired me to see them.
3) There’s no particular reason the movies had to be plotless; they look more like examples of giving up.
4) I’m reminded of my own process when I’m starting a novel and writing down ideas, premises, and characters—but long before I’m starting to link and weave those ideas, premises, and characters. Unfortunately, the people behind shame appear to have stopped at the first step. They were more like shorts than features, which is a problem I’m too aware of in novels, where the short-story-writers-cum-novelists sometimes don’t know where to go with 70,000 – 90,000 words.
5) For an example of movies like these (nudity, psychological tension, internal turmoil manifested in external ways) but better, try Swimming Pool.
6) Music is a complement to, not a substitute for, character development.
7) Is it a comedy and we are missing the joke?