Friday, June 30
REVIEW: The Beguiled
Directed by Sofia Coppola
2017 Period Drama
1 hour 33 minutes
From Focus Features
The truth is it wasn't one of Clint Eastwood's biggest crowd-pleasers when it came out in 1971. It was a fairly dreary story and the bad news is it still is.
It takes place in 1864 Virginia at a gloomy, almost oppressive-looking girl's school/seminary. Only five girls of various ages are in residence... the rest have gone home for the summer. It is run by a stern headmistress and she has her put-upon, forlorn-appearing assistant to order around.
One of the girls comes upon a severely injured union soldier in the woods. They manage to return to the school together where his presence creates a cacophony of erratic behavior. Most of the behavior is similar to being on a farm and witnessing what happens when a rooster is introduced to a brood of hens. In my demented way, I can say those barnyard days were kind of a hoot to watch and this movie would have been a lot better if it had shown some of the heated passion it wanted us to know it had. Oh, ok, there was a scene or two but it needed a lot more. It didn't need more graphic scenes (although, if done well, they're always a plus in these stories), it needed more of sex in the air. The sexual tension needed to be more pervasive. It needed a leading man to exude more of the allure that he's always had. Maybe someone should have pulled out a dvd of Paul Newman in The Long, Hot Summer to see how steamy is done. We only got lukewarm.
Unfortunately the movie is bland and limp with characters who never really come to life and that is what I get from Sofia Coppola flicks. I haven't had her over for dinner (and I suspect it ain't gonna happen now) so I don't exactly know her but my impressions are she is rather wan and withdrawn somehow and aren't her films mired in a sort of lifelessness. If that's too strong then don't they need a push or somethin', a goose, a shot of Vitamin B12? I just don't get her acclaim (if that's really the word) and will let her off my hook by saying maybe she's still in training. (Her 2006 Marie Antoinette is an exception to most of my point of view but it certainly has its own arcane storytelling.)
What I criticize Coppola for mainly is doing a remake and not doing it better. I feel the same about any director who would rather do a remake than something original and then not offer anything exciting. Frankly, it shouldn't have been that difficult to make a better version of the earlier film.
Why is it that, except for a couple of scenes, everyone whispered? Most annoying. And ok, ok, there was no electricity in 1864 but how about indulging audiences on this one because we'd actually like to see what's going on.
I like Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. I see most of their films and they are good actors. His sexual chemistry, as said, was not much in evidence, and she certainly was no threat to the wonderfully menacing Geraldine Page in the original. Both needed to step it up to make this interesting.
Coppola obviously has a fondness for Kirsten Dunst whose standard forlorn look is perfect for this role, for this picture. I feel, however, that she must tell her agent to only accept roles for her in which her characters smile a lot. I'm jus' sayin'.
Elle Fanning, back with Coppola again, gets the ball rolling for the final act, but she so far her screen appearances haven't registered much for me. The youngest girls, mentioned above, were given more than simple kid roles and may be the best thing about the whole affair.
Hey, that was upbeat. Let's end with a little more. The film had a perfect look with respect to decay and it was certainly able to project an air of weariness. While I thought the first half was fairly dull, it does pick up in the final act. Kudos, too, to a great production design.
And really, I'm always up for a Nicole or Colin movie. And apparently they are, too, because they've just completed The Killing of a Sacred Deer, coming out later this year. I'll try again.
Good 70s movie