But perhaps what's most surprising about the film is just how accessible it proves to be (its subject matter and running time notwithstanding) — and bizarrely enough, it may even be von Trier's most accessible (though certainly not his most commercial) film to date. This is really a testament to the sexual ferocity and emotional fragility that Martin brings forth in her sublime performance. Because even though she plays the role of young Joe with a certain degree of emotional indifference, there's also an unquantifiable likeability about her portrayal, making it easy to empathize with her character. It's much different from the energy that Gainsbourg brings to the screen, and it makes Martin's presence sorely missed when she transitions out of the role.
Nevertheless, audiences will find it easy to connect with the story via its many moments of levity, and via the relationships that Joe forms throughout — from her loving relationship with her father (played by Christian Slater) to her rapport with Seligman, which grows over the course of her narrative (but which turns out to be the film's cruelest joke). Otherwise, most of the humor comes from Seligman's amusing anecdotes, comparing aspects of Joe's sex life to more mundane things like fly fishing and Fibonacci numbers. But von Trier also maintains a sense of self-deprecating humor throughout, especially noticeable at times when Joe's storytelling weaves in abstract imagery, which is usually followed by an immediate interjection on Seligman's part (either objecting to its absurdity or expressing bewilderment at its inclusion). Of course, the writer/director hasn't abandoned the art house aesthetic entirely, as the films' chapters are laden with allegorical imagery, philosophical musings and recurrent themes — all perhaps serving a higher purpose as part of his commentary on gender inequality. What it all boils down to is that, despite the usual trappings of a von Trier film, there's a lot to chew on in Joe's story that will resonate with audiences.
4 out of 5.
I was quite pleasantly surprised by this. Even at four hours, it wasn't difficult to sit through. More in my full review, including a discussion of the film's more ... um, graphic aspects.