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Archive for the ‘Juliet Stevenson’ Category

Emma

18 May

Emma – written and directed by Douglas McGrath. High Comedy. A young woman tries her pretty hand at match-making, with unexpected comical results. 121 minutes Color 1996.

★★★★★

Yes, a timeless comedy. And in a rare version of it, the director/writer of Emma has reduced a novel of over 600 pages in which nothing happens at all, which has no plot, no story, and which all we are concerned with is who is visiting whom next – and which, once taken up, it is impossible to put down.

For here we have, in Jane Austin’s hand, the creation of a character in Emma of Shakespearean veracity.

You read along, and you cannot help but love her, because she always means well and she is always absolutely wrong. From the point of view of character creation, Emma is a masterpiece of human life, someone who simply stands apart from the novel and walks around through its pages as though she wrote them herself, foibles and all. Like Falstaff, Emma has a life of her own.

Two exceptions worth making to this highly entertaining film.

Ewan McGregor is not only badly miscast; he also, one after another, looks terrible in his costumes And he also cannot play the part. The part of Frank Churchill is the best looking male in the story: he is devastating to women; he is high-spirited, he is dark, he is slender; he is beautifully turned out, he cuts a wonderful figure; he is lots of fun. But McGregor is accoutered in a hideous blond wig, his clothes are dowdy and don’t fit through the shoulders, he is frumpy of temperament, wants joi de vivre, wants mystery, and, in short, is so clunky no woman would look twice at him nor any man envy him.

The second exception is that the story does depend upon Emma’s falling for Churchill, sign of which gives her true love long pause. This movement is omitted, and so when Jeremy Northam must question it we have no idea what he could mean.

Otherwise the film is a gem. Otherwise if there is anything to forgive it is not worth noticing. We have Phyllida Law, a study as old Mrs Bates, Polly Walker perfect as the reserved and beauteous Jane Fairfax, Juliet Stephenson hilarious as the society-bitch Mrs Elton, Sophie Thompson as the impossibly voluble Miss Bates, Greta Sacchi kindness itself as Mrs Weston (née Taylor), Alan Cumming as the worry-wart health-nut Mr, Woodhouse, Emma’s father, whom she so much resembles. And Toni Colette, an actress who probably can do no wrong, as the gullible teenager Harriet Smith.

But the jewel in this jewel, the heart of its heart, is the big-hearted Gwyneth Paltrow, perfect.

Until Gwyneth Paltrow, no true ingénue has appeared in film since Audrey Hepburn.  Until she retired, Hepburn played with the energy of it , even in dramatic roles, such as The Nun’s Story, for she was never a dramatic actress. But Gwyneth Paltrow finally, also, had the perfect collection of ingénue attributes, yet, after her two wonderful comedies – and ingénues must be introduced in comedy – Paltrow embarked on serious dramatic roles much more demanding that those which Audrey Hepburn took on after Sabrina and Roman Holiday. Paltrow’s two comedies were this and Shakespeare In Love, both high style costume pieces, and both requiring an upper class English accent.

But what are the qualities of the ingénue?

Many actresses have played ingénue roles without being true ingénues: Helena Bonham-Carter, Susannah York come to mind.  For someone has to play them. The ingénue is most often the second female lead, playing opposite the juvenile or jeune premier, both just under the leading lady and leading man. Thus: Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and Bianca in The Taming Of The Shrew.

But what does the true ingénue, Audrey Hepburn and Gwyneth Paltrow, have in common that  the others do not have?  What makes them true ingénues?

Well, both are tall, slender, and have long necks, and are elegant of mein. Both in private are clothes horses and on screen wear clothes well. That’s  nice, but they alone do not do it.

Both have charming, well-placed, cultivated speaking voices. Both are bright. Both are sexually innocent. Both are pretty in a way no one else is.

In both instances, they have radiant smiles.

And both are under or appear to be always 21.

But, most important, both are fresh.

And both have real big hearts.

They do not play second leads. They play leading roles because they are rare.

They are absolutely for some reason adorable, for, as soon as you see them, you fall in love with them as you would with an enchanting child.

This is the reason to see Emma. To see a magical young girl whom you have no will to resist being charmed by.

What a treat for you.

Gwyneth Paltrow this year was voted the most beautiful woman in the world. She is now 41. That freshness still remains. And – the most beautiful woman in the world because so endearing for having – its so obvious – the biggest heart you ever saw.

 

Mona Lisa Smile

31 Dec

Mona Lisa Smile – directed by Mike Newell. Chickflick. A new art instructor at Wellesely College for women finds herself up against unquestioned traditions. 117 minutes Color 2003.
★★★★★
Julia Roberts as an academician is beautifully miscast on the grounds that her popular consistency won’t know the difference. After all, how many of them went to Wellesely to begin with or have even heard of it? The marble-like conservative nature of the institution is sufficiently pigeoned-on to have closed it, and it is a wonder the filmers were not sued. Or maybe they were.

But our Julia prevails. She soldiers through a role for which she has not the slightest cultural depth. She reminds one of Joan Crawford with her broad mouth incapable of a subtlety and her big staring eyes. And inwardly you can see how much she enjoys being a star. Their instruments are quite different, however. Both are calculating performers. But Roberts is more at ease in her work; her assurance arises not out of her ego, but out of a sense of fun and of absurdity. She can play comedy at the drop of a hat, and Crawford could not play it at all. She is neither a masochist nor a sadist and Crawford was both. Roberts is an actress of seventeen smiles, Crawford of two. They are both wonderful. And they were both sometimes miscast.

But the script provides various resorts for Roberts, such as the fact that she expects perfection from everybody, or rather that she expects everybody to be an already finished work of art. She gets her come-uppance, thank goodness.

And in this she is helped by three typical students, Kirsten Dunst who plays a controlling marriage-aimed student, Julia Stiles who plays a young woman on the fence between marriage and a career, and Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays a free-loving girl, co-dependent to unavailable men.

The film has many nice touches and a real feeling of a small New England campus in the 1950s. It is interesting to revisit those times and consider how true or false the film is to them. It is a feminist screed on one level, which is just fine by me, since it is a blatant exposure of the small and very commercial expectations young women were steered toward in those days – and little did I know. I went to Columbia: Barnard was different.

And I wonder at the casting of the picture. It’s been ten years since it was made, and looking at the three leads, Dunst, Stiles, and Gyllenhaal, it is clear what their destinies as actors would be. The first two would go on; maybe they had some talent; Stiles certainly had a beautifully placed voice. But only Maggie Gyllenhaal would go on to be a star. For there she shines, with her sexiness, her intelligence, her deep humor, her wisdom, her flexibility, her charming happy face, and her big heart: the paramount soubrette. Talented as all get out. The first two I would not avoid seeing; they have not wronged me; the third I would make my way to see with relish. And I do.

John Slattery and Marcia Gay Harden and Marian Seldes and Juliet Stephenson are fine in supporting roles. And the picture is not pat. It wisely turns on itself in a way that is helpful to one once it is over.

 

Red Mercury

25 Mar

Red Mercury — Directed by Roy Battersby — Terrorist Drama. All London hangs by a thread as a group of terrorists ambushed in a Greek restaurant bargain for world domination. 113 minutes Color 2005.

* * * *

Perfectly cast and performed, the story is lead by Juliet Stevenson, lead detective but with a troubled daughter, who plays a careful tracking game to gain leverage on the terrorists within. Immediately behind her, playing the head of police is Pete Postlethwaite, whose interests lie alongside hers but slightly to the right. Inside are the captors and captives. Ron Silver is lovely as a ritzy American lawyer with helpful ideas for the terrorists. And you will relish to your bones Stockard Channing as the owner and chief cook of the Greek restaurant. It’s a lushly written part, for she is outspoken, corrective, funny, and insinuating in achieving her goals. Watch how, as an actress, she is so firmly planted on her beautiful strong legs and feet. Whatever you may think of her as an actress, she is always there, always present. As to the film, not a bad way at all to spend a good movie hour or so.

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