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MGM Studios DVD presents
Boxing Helena (1993)

Helena: You think you can't be a man without me.
Nick: But I have you.

- Sherilyn Fenn, Julian Sands

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: April 23, 2001

Stars: Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn
Other Stars: Bill Paxton, Kurtwood Smith, Art Garfunkel, Betsy Clark, Nicolette Scorsese, Meg Register, Bryan Smith, Marla Levine, Kim Lentz, Lloyd T. Williams, Carl Mazzocone, Erik Shoaff, Lisa Oz
Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexual situations, language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:15s
Release Date: April 10, 2001
UPC: 027616860330
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I first caught Boxing Helena on cable, though I don't recall what my impressions were of it at the time. For some reason, I was excited that this was coming out on DVD and managed to snag our review copy. As Jennifer Chambers Lynch's (daughter of David) directorial debut, the reviews I've read of the film universally pan it, citing bad acting, a contrived plot, lack of realism, and an overused ending. While I'll agree about the ending, my opinion of this film is that it is simply brilliant—in a sick and twisted kind of way. It certainly won't be to many people's taste, but there is an audience for this highly underrated work.

Julian Sands stars as Dr. Nick Cavanaugh, the son of wealthy parents who abused and neglected him. His mother was a slut and on at least one occasion, he had been caught peeping on her while she was "entertaining". Nick is now the head physician at a hospital, specializing in amputations and limb recovery. We are introduced to him via an interesting reveal: from behind his mother's casket as it is lowered into the ground. He has just inherited the family house, which is a sizeable estate, and plans to move in with his girlfriend Anne (Betsy Clark). However, while out for a drink with his best friend and colleague, Lawrence (Art Garfunkel), Nick spots Helena (Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn), a woman he had a one night stand with, and now becomes obsessed with her. Despite Lawrence's advise to simply forget Helena, Nick's obsession becomes even stronger, and while out for a jog before dinner with Anne, he happens across Helena's building. After abandoning his first impulse to ring the doorbell, he instead climbs a tree to spy in her window. Here, she begins disrobing, much to his satisfaction, but the fantasy ends when her lover, Ray (Bill Paxton) enters his view. Nick bolts, but his desperation to be with Helena grows even more unbearable. Back at home, he rehearses his opening line while building up nerve to call her. When he finally does, she is, of course, in the throws of passion—being the sex kitten she is—with Ray. Still not discouraged, Nick decides the only way to get close to Helena again is through holding a lavish party at his new house. Despite the presence of his girlfriend, he begins fawning over Helena as soon as she arrives, much to her displeasure, so she tries to be as heartless and humiliating to Nick as possible. Even after Helena leaves the party with another of his friends and Anne confronts him about her, Nick won't give up. He managed to snatch her purse at the party, so now he takes the opportunity to lure her back to his house to retrieve it. Still getting an icy reception, his luck changes when a twist of fate leaves her in need of his care, and he embarks on a new relationship with the object of his desire, which will eventually prove, shall we say, disarming.

Sure, the premise of the film is completely implausible. So what? Yes, the forced symbolism used throughout the film is overdone, but this isn't supposed to be realistic—we are talking about David Lynch's daughter behind the camera here. Sands brilliantly plays the ultimate loser, a guy who takes whatever humiliation is thrown at him and brushes it aside due to his obsession with some shallow, callous bitch. Despite everything she has done to hurt and deflect him, he persists, and his baseness is emphasized by careful downward angles on many of his scenes. Boxing Helena is wonderfully shot, with some great visual effects. I thought Bill Paxton was perfect as the studly boyfriend and hilarious in a completely deadpan way. The rest of the supporting cast, Garfunkel, Clark and Kurtwood Smith (as another loser doctor interested only in his self promotion), fill their roles wonderfully. While the film may have been intended to demonstrate the need for men to objectify women and, ahem, place them on a pedestal, I'll leave the heavy philosophizing to others. I will just say that, except for the ending, this is a great little cult piece, wonderfully dark and twisted, brimming with fun performances. I would hardly recommend this to everyone, due to ample nudity and sex, and plot twists that leave at least one of the characters, hmmm...for lack of a better word (and in keeping with the somewhat tasteless nature of the film), stumped.

Kim Bassinger was originally slated for the title role, but bailed on the project, which resulted in a $9 million lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court, and while many feel this is a complete waste of film, I think Jennifer's daddy should be proud!

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is simply a gorgeous transfer, perfectly conveying the lush, warm and earthy atmosphere of the film. Defects are rare, and compression issues are nonexistent. The intentional softness is left intact, and film grain renders naturally. Even complex patterns hold up without excessive shimmer. This looks fabulous.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: There is nothing to complain about with the stereo surround soundtrack either. Imaging is excellent, frequency response satisfying. Dialogue is easily intelligible. Nice work.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The film's theatrical trailer is the only extra. Menus are simple, mirroring the box art. I would have loved a commentary track for this, but it isn't to be.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Boxing Helena is a marvelous gem for those who enjoy deranged storytelling and have an equally questionable sense of humor. Its style and content will not be acceptable to many, as copious sexuality and its reliance on amputeeism may offend more proper tastes. I think it's great.


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