Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday matinee recommend: Bright Star

Warning: This review is much more entertaining if read in a British accent. Just saying.

It was a lovely sunny Sunday here, one of those last perfect days that nudges you toward denial that winter will ever arrive. It will not come. It will not come. (Then, wham, snow flies next week. Stranger things have happened...)

Befitting such a day, I took to the theater with a girlfriend for a matinee. We saw "Bright Star," Jane Campion's take on the love affair of John Keats and Fanny Brawn. It was an extraordinarily beautiful movie, shot with all the right angles and light to make even the muddiest and muckiest scenes of England circa 1819 look romantic. And the summer scenes--picnicking and flower sniffing, catching butterflies, cavorting in the meadows... yup, romantic as can be. Quite swoonable. Also quite slow, however. I kept waiting for something to happen. But as there really wasn't much of a plot outside some drama about the couple not being an appropriate match (he's broke, she'll need to marry someone with money) until he falls ill, I had to be satisfied with the beauty of the surroundings, and some recitations of Keats' poetry. And I was satisfied, mostly.

Abbie Cornish was convincing as the lovestruck Fanny and Ben Whishaw as Keats was suitably anemic enough as to plausibly be fallen by TB. The uber-annoying and persistently plaid-clad Mr. Brown (Keats' best friend and sometime benefactor, played by Charles Schneider) provides a bit of acid to this otherwise sweet froth. However, it is never explained what on earth is compelling enough about Brown that Keats' would chose to spend any time whatsoever with him; he's really quite the pill--it's obvious that Brown wishes he had an ounce of Keats' talent, and mightily resents any attention Keats shows toward Fanny. Tiresome.

Some of the details I enjoyed were of the Brawn family's life together--Christmas dinner by the fire; the men of Hamstead Heath singing a classical composition all together, voices taking on the parts of strings; sweet little sister Toots (she stole a lot of scenes) showing off her sewing to big sister Fanny... really, just about any scene with Toots in it was fine with me. She's a delightful little actress, Edie Martin. The attention to detail throughout the film was evident, and did a lot to carry it past the somewhat superficial character development and set the picture apart from other similar Austenesque movies.

Being old and crotchety as I am (!), the rather rapturous romance was at times worthy of a chuckle. It was all a bit overwrought... I can't breathe if I'm away from you for too long... Really? I want to commit suicide when a short love letter arrives, rather than a long one... Seriously? I guess if you're aiming to be known as one of the greatest romantic poets of all time, it's best to shoot for the flowery and angst-filled end of the spectrum. And even though a few of the reviews I read claimed the movie would do nothing to pull people toward Keats' poetry, I beg to differ. There was plenty in the movie to compel toward his work, I thought.

So I have no number to assign... I'll need to think about that whole numbers and stars thing if I ever review another movie (was this even a review? Maybe, sort of.), but for now I'd say it's a lovely little Sunday afternoon film. For girls. And maybe, just maybe, the men who love them, if they're needing a few woo points...

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