Sunday, October 04, 2009

REVIEW: Bright Star

Roger Ebert once said that "there is something inside me resists the films of David Lynch." I share that sentiment when it comes to another genre: Something inside me resists period costume dramas. The latest, Bright Star, is and isn't an exception at the same time.

 I can understand why many people love the likes of A Room with a View, Howards End and much of Merchant/Ivory canon, but those films just don't sing for me.  I recognize the strength of the performances and the stories, but most of these movies have no visual energy – they come across as glorified episodes of Masterpiece Theatre – pictures of people talking.

There are occasionally exceptions, like Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice and even Merchant/Ivory's The Remains of the Day. I was hoping Bright Star would be among this group, given that it was directed by Jane Campion, best known for The Piano. Alas, Campion's direction is uncommonly staid, and that rubs off on the film. As was the case with Howards End, what saves it is an excellent performance by the lead actress.

Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne, a headstrong girl who fell passionately in love with British romantic poet John Keats. Their match, however, is ill-fated, not least because Keats is broke and deeply in debt.

Cornish is outstanding and very moving as Fanny. She is a woman of contradictions, of many colors, and that makes her fascinating. Keats, on the other hand, as written by Campion and played by Ben Whishaw, comes across as a morose, sullen fop. I fully understood, why he fell for her, but I was a little mystified as to why she fell for him other than the fact that he was "John Keats." I couldn't muster up much enthusiasm for the romance when I was only rooting for half of the couple.

Adding to the ennui is Campion's unimaginative direction. She's usually much more interesting visually, but aside from the odd striking shot or montage, too much of the movie is yet another Masterpiece Theatre episode.

I do slimly recommend the movie on the strength of Cornish – the title of the film very much applies to her. The film as a whole? Not so much.


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