Friday, February 29, 2008

"The Other Boleyn Girl" -- * 1/2

Justin Chadwick's "The Other Boleyn Girl" is an adaptation of a hugely popular and well-regarded novel, AND it happens to be a period piece, AND it stars the likes of Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana. And it's coming out in February. Yes, February, the dumping ground that is known for housing films like "The Eye," "Strange Wilderness," "Fool's Gold," "Welcome Back Roscoe Jenkins," "Jumper" and "Vantage Point." Shouldn't that tell you right off the bat that something went awry with this movie along the way? When a movie like this opens in January or February, it's like a giant red flag warning you to step away. Let me just say, this is NOT the exception to the rule. Despite a willingness to be engaged, and granting the film every possible allowance, I was, frankly, struggling to stay awake from minute one.

Announcing its tedium and faux-importance with its first frame, a yellow-tinted shot of wheat blowing, "Boleyn" is most noteworthy for how deftly it balances silliness and being really fucking boring. I admit I'm not the greatest fan of corset dramas, but I hoped this one's soap opera tendencies and focus on women's bitchery to one another rather than unrequited love might make it somewhat more compelling for me, even if it had to resort to campiness. But alas, the film doesn't embrace the over-the-top melodrama it so desperately is crying out to be, and instead, plays it "classy," rendering the whole affair with the faint whiff of pretension and blandness. Screenwriter Peter Morgan ("The Queen," "Frost/Nixon") has a tendency to take subject matters I'm not terribly interested in, and make them compelling, but here, his words aren't nearly strong enough to bring this material to life, and in fact, sometimes do more harm than good ("She said WHAT?!?" is an actual line of dialogue).

Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, "Boleyn" tells the story of the Boleyn sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson), and how they were thrown around as status symbols and pawns of power in the court of King Henry VII (Eric Bana). First, Boleyn daddy Thomas dangles the willing Anne in front of Henry to gain his family power and prestige. Though super-conniving Anne is totally down with fucking Henry, said dude is more interested in porking the ambivalent, kind Mary. After he does, Anne gets pissed; she wants the King's power and palace for herself. Various acts of jealousy, bitchery and back-stabbing ensue. I've just realized I've made this sound fairly fun to watch, and for that I apologize. Let me assure you, it's not.

Despite a storyline juicier than most movies of this type, the proceedings are just as bland and the filmmaking just as stock and repetitive as is par for the course for films featuring men wearing silly hats (and boy, does Bana get to wear some silly hats). I lost count of how many times the camera became fixed on the face of someone gazing maliciously/jealously at someone else, and there are so many shots of Bana marching angrily down a hallway that it eventually becomes an instigator for group laughter. The soap opera element also works against the tone because it becomes virtually impossible to take the movie seriously, which it really, really wants us to do. There are innumerable lines that were obviously written with the intention of provoking the mental equivalent of "Oh, snap!" The amount of dramatic stares and line readings alone would have made me laugh if I wasn't too bored to make any sort of facial movements.

While it's not the film's biggest, there's a substantial problem from scene one due to the blatant Americanism and blatant modernism of our two leading ladies. Johansson and Portman more often than not resemble two American teenagers playing playing dress-up and, well, me no takey seriously. I've got to be honest, I generally don't like Scarlett Johansson. I think she is consistently subpar in everything that she appears in, and often out-and-out awful (upon hearing my opinion, Ms. Johansson reportedly unconvincingly screamed "YOU'RE A LIAR! YOU'RE A LIAR!" over and over again).

Here, I was looking forward to the movie based on my affinity for Portman and Bana, but I dare say, Johansson does the best job of the three. Her performance may be totally hollow, complete with her dead-eyed stare, but at least she's trying and not totally embarrassing herself. Bana clearly doesn't give a shit and looks on the verge of falling asleep, even when doing those angry hallway marches. Portman, on the other hand, doesn't fare well at all with her one-note nastiness, and her "big" theatrical histrionics near the end just made me cringe. The supporting cast includes mediocre work from Kristin Scott Thomas, new "it" boy Jim Sturgess, and "My name allows me to appear in period pieces, and period pieces only" Benedict Cumberpatch.

It almost seems a cruel trick played on "Boleyn" producer Scott Rudin for Sony Pictures to be releasing this turd mere days after his triumphant Best Picture win for "No Country for Old Men." Where that film boasted tremendous filmmaking, unbearable tension and powerful commentary about our society's morality, here we get nothing more than pretty dresses and muddled English accents. If just the thought of looking at these attractive thespians in period garb gets your blood pumping, by all means go see "The Other Boleyn Girl." Everyone else, be prepared for an unrelentingly dull, melodramatic costume drama that'll make you wish you'd been attacked by an irate, airgun-wielding Javier Bardem instead.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review made me laugh out loud three times...Canfora

3:48 PM  

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