Modeled loosely on Patricia Bosworth's 1984 biography, Fur
opens with an independent, working Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman), free of the familial restraints that previously prevented her from making art. Flashing back three months, the viewer comes to learn that she has just left her husband and children to photographically investigate her fetishes through observing the extraordinary. When Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), a wig-maker who suffers from hypertrichosis, or excessive hair growth, moves into Arbus's apartment building with his entourage and basement full of carnival props, Arbus is seduced by this opportunity to visually feast on freaks. The split with her conventional family becomes inevitable. Confusing love with her desire to make art, Arbus is overwhelmed when Lionel perishes, though its made clear to the viewer that this event provides Arbus necessary artistic impetus.
Early scenes establishing Arbus's distaste for society parties, such as the fur fashion show her parents host, her boredom during her husband's dull, ridiculous commercial photo shoots, and her initial fascination with Lionel and his bizarre friends are strange and funny, successfully separating Arbus from the 'average' people surrounding her. But as Lionel and Arbus fall in love, pretentious whispering replaces their regular conversations, and overacting spoils Lionel's death scene, in which they both float dramatically through the ocean, followed by Arbus crying in the surf like a weenie. Arbus desperately huffing air from a life raft Lionel inflated before he died is completely cheesy. The tortured artist myth has, once again, been pushed too far.
For a film that has such fine costuming, production design, and cinematography, it's a shame that Fur succumbs to that Hollywood convention of reducing the entire plot to a tragic love story. For a project with so much potential, and with so many Arbus fans eagerly awaiting this tribute to the great photographer, it's unfortunate that Fur falls flat, due mostly to injected sentimental melodrama in scenes where it has no place. If Arbus sought to expel saccharine emotionality from portrait photography, then it's odd that a biopic dedicated to her memory would be so unabashedly corny. --Trinie Dalton
An imagined biography of photographer Diane Arbus' transformation from '50s housewife to legendary snapper of life's more 'unusual' portraits. Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is unhappily married mother to two children, Her mother and father are socialite fur-sellers and her husband Alan (Ty Burrell) a renowned studio photographer. Since childhood Diane has been hopelessly drawn to the unusual and when encouraged to take some pictures herself she seeks a subject that will speak aloud her worldview - that of people on the margins, the unusual and erotic. Opportunity knocks when a mysterious masked man moves into the flat upstairs. Diane is compelled to meet him. She takes a camera upstairs under the guise of photographer wanting to capture her new neighbour on film. The dapper and charming Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.), it transpires, has a rare disorder, hypertrichosis, that covers him head to toe in thick, lustrous hair that he harvests to make high-class wigs. Arbus is completely enslaved by Lionel's sheer difference and is soon finding any excuse to enter his world. A former circus sideshow himself, Lionel has a circle of friends and clients ranging from an armless woman to midgets, transvestites and a giant - all of whom utterly fascinate his new pal. Fur, however far from the true events it may be, is a tender portrayal of human compassion and of a woman pursuing art against great odds.