Some people claim this notorious 1993 bomb is a misunderstood
masterpiece. Don’t believe ‘em!
How this project came together is something of a
mystery: the script, written by David Lynch’s 19-year-old daughter
Jennifer, somehow managed to attract the attention of Madonna and Kim
Basinger, both of whom were set to play the title role at various points
(Basinger was successfully sued for backing out of the project, although
the verdict was subsequently overturned). Sherilyn Fenn ended up with
the part, unfortunately enough, under the direction of the totally
inexperienced Ms. Lynch, who botched the job spectacularly.
It took Jennifer Lynch 15 years to make another film.
That film was 2008’s
SURVEILLANCE, and it’s far better than BOXING HELENA, so much
so that Jennifer’s father actually lent his name to the new film as
executive producer (if David Lynch has ever so much as mentioned BOXING
HELENA publicly I have yet to hear of it).
Nick is a wealthy neurosurgeon, but also a hopeless
basket case. He’s obsessed with an attractive but bitchy young woman
named Helena. At night he peeps at her through her bedroom window (she
apparently never thinks to close her curtains) and sends her massive
bouquets of flowers. She’s unimpressed, but Nick is not to be deterred.
He invites her to a lavish party he throws, where she for some reason
decides to dance in his backyard fountain. This nearly drives Nick out
of his skull with desire. She’s still not interested in him,
however, and makes a show of leaving the party with another guy.
Nick gets Helena to return to his house by stealing her
wallet. She still doesn’t respond to his romantic overtures, and this
time pays a deadly price: she’s run over outside his house. Her legs are
broken, and Nick puts his surgeon’s skills to work by amputating
Helena’s limbs and keeping her captive in his house.
She’s none too pleased about this situation, and vents
her anger by making fun of Nick sexually. He responds by cutting off her
arms, thus making her totally dependent on him.
In this guise Helena becomes more responsive to Nick’s
overtures, and even gets turned on by the sight of him having sex with
another woman. But this apparently blissful romance is interrupted by
Helena’s meathead boyfriend, who shows up and beats the crap out of
Around this point Nick wakes up to hear that Helena is
in the hospital, recuperating from her surgery. Apparently much of the
preceding action was a dream--or maybe it all is. The real
question is, who cares?
What’s wrong with this film? Damn near everything, I‘d
say, starting with the screenplay. Lines like “Why didn‘t you just
fake it? That‘s what good women do!” play every bit as ludicrous as
they sound. Jennifer Lynch claims she wrote the script at age 19, which
explains its hopelessly naïve and misinformed take on male-female
Contrary to what you might have heard about it, BOXING
HELENA isn’t especially weird or gruesome. The chintzy photography is
more akin to a Hallmark ad and the erotic scenes look like bad outtakes
from RED SHOE DIARIES. The lead actors Julian Sands and Sherilyn Fenn
are both staggeringly awful, delivering high school play-worthy
performances. I found it impossible to fathom what Sands’ character sees
in Fenn, who never comes off an anything more than a spoiled rich bitch,
or how it was that the severely dorky Sands could possibly be a wealthy
surgeon (he’s certainly got plenty of free time).
But the real shock of the film, coming from a relation
of David Lynch, is the complete lack of directorial finesse. What few
effective moments there are (such as the scenes of the hapless Nick
futilely attempting to relate to the armless-and-legless Helena) appear
to have come about largely by accident. Otherwise, though, what shines
through is the complete amateurishness of the project. Since Jennifer
Lynch’s second film demonstrates real talent, I can only assume that
with BOXING HELENA she just wasn’t ready.
Main Line Pictures
Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Producer: Carl Mazzocone
Screenplay: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Cinematography: Frank Byers
Editing: David Finfer
Cast: Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn, Bill Paxton, Art Garfunkel, Betsy
Clark, Kurtwood Smith, Nicolette Scorsese, Meg Register, Bryan Smith,