“I didn’t want our lives to turn from an A-picture to a B-movie!” – Susan Sarandon, as Florence Aadland in The Last of Robin Hood
Pardon my French, but that’s bullshit Mrs. Aadland. You and your movie’s affinity for tawdry chintz is right there in the Lifetime production label. You know, for a movie that cavalierly portrays a legendary Hollywood actor as a charming statutory rapist, Last of Robin Hood isn’t as icky as you’d expect. Oh, yes, conceptually, this movie’s in extremely bad taste, and it does a disservice to a thrilling but troubled legend, under-utilizing Oscar winners in the name of tabloid tales. Yet, as old-fashioned gossip, The Last of Robin Hood is good in just that way. You know that thing where you force a frown when you know what you’re hearing is awful, even though you’re kind of smiling in shock and guilty amusement? That’s what Errol Flynn’s story does.
The Last of Robin Hood is a tacky, trashy, giddy remembrance of Errol Flynn and his love of a 15-year-old girl just before he died at 50. Yes, it is in poor taste, but in a slappy way. This has cult classic written all over it.
Beverly Aadland (embodied by the generally focused, tense Dakota Fanning) had dreams of being in show business. Whether it was her dream or her mother Florence’s, Beverly was already a seasoned vet at an early age. Lying about her age, she got work doing everything from baby commercials to Vegas dance shows. Beverly was mediocre to say the least (not a great singer, dancer, or actress), but she tried and tried. Often with the encouragement, even the insistence of bad stage mom Flo. It’s classic Hollywood crazy.
Enter swashbuckling sonuvabitch Errol Flynn (a delightfully debonair Kevin Kline), whose eye catches Bev on a studio back lot. He seems certain that it’s kismet, like the other times he’s flirted with and fondled underage women … From there, it’s the histrionic Flynn taking the mother and daughter Aadland along for a ride.
The Last of Robin Hood plants its vodka-soaked flag right into the trash heap, proud to be a tasteless, dangerous romp. Lifetime Movies makes its theatrical debut with a movie rife with its TV-movie hallmarks, now with some really strong stars. The Last of Robin Hood has cheap production value, declarative-statement-based writing, and subversive sexuality. It’s all as subtle as a romance novel with a shirtless man and the word “passion” somewhere on the cover. Think Lolita dumbed down.
Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland write and direct with Todd Haynes exec-producing; this feels like a weirdly specific labor of love. Even as the film fails in the simplest technical details (the Photoshop jobs of old tabloids and photographs should never be seen in a movie), Last of Robin Hood is certainly always interested in its star’s unapologetic life. The directing duo apparently hunted down tapes of Florence Aadland over 10 years as part of development, filling Flynn’s story with plenty of warts, then awkwardly rushing past them with a wink and smile.
Flynn was a hell-raiser, and the film tries to go with that angle nostalgically, forgivingly. When Kevin Kline dances around nude with nothing but a bowler hat and heroin in his veins, you can’t help but stare in astonishment, then cringe as the Aadland’s laugh at his sketchy behavior. Oh, that Errol Flynn. When a movie looks its subject in the eye and shrugs in the face of deviance and debauchery, you somewhat have to admire its audacity. As a historical document and portrait of an artist, The Last of Robin Hood is regrettably sticky. As high camp, it’s the B movie goods, a unique spin on absolution, because you know, “the good old days.”