When comparing two of cinema’s great sexual predators, I always used to say, “Unlike Woody Allen, at least Roman Polanski doesn’t constantly make movies that remind us of his crimes.”
Until now. What? is a bafflingly misguided indulgence from the director, one which finds sexual assault and predation funny on their own. Now, a morally reprehensible sexual riff on Alice in Wonderland still has the potential to be compelling and fascinating, but What? commits the damning sin of turning all that discomfort and sleaze into a series of boring digressions. Polanski is at utmost indulgence here, running “jokes” into the ground, holding on scenes for way too long, and building the narrative on improvisatory bits that go nowhere. Eventually he ends on a moment of meta bullshit that is beyond pretentious and, essentially, a big middle finger to the audience.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Polanski himself, playing one of the many predators in the film:
“They call me Mosquito, because I sting people with my big stinger! You know what my stinger is?”
“It’s my harpoon gun!”
And then he shoots a fucking harpoon gun across the room like he’s letting off a load from his slimy moustache. Ugh.