December 16, 2003

Girl with a Pearl Earring

This is an easy film to review because very little happens, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Based on the popular novel by Tracy Chevalier about master painter Johannes Vermeer (played by the master actor of angst Colin Firth; serious has any actor played more characters in love with women below his character's standing than this guy?) and the maid (LOST IN TRANSLATION's Scarlett Johansson) who served as the model for one of his most famous paintings. The story speculates that Vermeer fell in love with the maid (although never acted on that feeling) much to his wife's disapproval. There are countless subplots in the film involving Vermeer's wicked children, his lecherous patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), the other servants, and a butcher's son played by 28 DAYS LATER's Cillian Murphy, but none of these are as interesting as the nearly wordless interplay between Firth and the stunningly expressive face of Johansson. Never has catching a glimpse of a woman's uncovered hair seen quite so erotic. And never has Colin Firth been so pent up and repressed as he is here.

Yes, the brief glimpse that first-time feature director Peter Webber gives us of Vermeer at work and his technique is fascinating, but the fact remains that next to nothing actually transpires here, and this may turn some people off to the film. It feels like everyone in this film is on the brink of exploding from repression. Vermeer's wife suspects him of all sorts of indiscretions, although he hasn't done anything but sin in his heart. So little goes on in the household that the servant gossip about even the smallest out-of-the-ordinary events. GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING might be the most tension-filled movie I've seen this year that didn't result in some explosion or bloody death. The film is an excellent chamber piece, beautifully photographed, with a handful of perfectly understated performances. What more do you need? I have no idea whether any of this took place in the Vermeer house, but the film is so convincing that in my mind, this is exactly what happened. It opens wide this Christmas.

Posted by sprokopy at 07:27 PM

Calendar Girls

Everything you've heard about CALENDAR GIRLS is true. This is the real-life story of a group of middle-aged to elderly British women who posed artfully nude for a calendar a couple years ago to raise funds for Leukemia research as a tribute to one of their late husbands and ended up earning piles of money and breaking worldwide calendar sales records that rivaled and outsold the likes of Britney Spears, making them international celebrities. This film is NOT the female version of THE FULL MONTY. Anyone who says that is lazy and wrong. These members of the Rylstone Women's Institute in North Yorkshire are a far cry from the working-class schlubs of MONTY. However, both films possess an innocent humor that will win you over in the first five minutes, due in large part to the genius and talent of Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. These two should make 10 more films together. Their natural banter and utterly convincing performances as two old friends bored to tears with the WI meetings and calendars is what sells the film and provides its deep heart. Being that this is one of the few films I've seen in quite a while that features this many women in the this age bracket, my guess is this will be THE "small" UK hit of the holidays, following in the tradition of films like MONTY, WAKING NED DEVINE, and most recently BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM.

The film is a no-frills account of the birth, execution, and success of the calendar ideas, and it was both fascinating and funny to watch the process of women in their 50s and 60s talk themselves and others out of their clothes. The success of the calendar brings the women and their families some unwanted attention of the notorious British tabloids and from Hollywood types looking to cash in on their popularity. I didn't think the Hollywood stuff held a candle to the British-based parts of the story, but it was intriguing to see which women let fame go to their heads and which remember the source of inspiration for the calendar and try to keep the proceedings dignified. I've had a not-so-secret crush on Julie Walters since I saw her in EDUCATING RITA, and my well-documented love for Helen Mirren knows no bounds (I know she's way too good for the likes of me, but a guy can dream, right?), so to see these two together is something of a dream come true. The film is light-hearted fun, a unique story told in a fairly conventional way. I'm guessing older women are going to be knocking down us youngsters to get to this one. It opens this weekend in most places.

Posted by sprokopy at 07:26 PM