Archive for the ‘Patricia Clarkson’ Category

The Bookshop

17 Sep

The Bookshop—directed by Isabel Coixet. Drama. 112 minutes Color 2018.
The Story: A WWII widow opens a bookshop in an English seaside town and finds herself the focus of intense drama for survival.
In The Bookshop two renowned actors, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson find the roles of a lifetime. They do not disappoint.

As the film passes, one wonders why the widow remains, but the film answers the question as it is being asked. The camera plays upon the rain, the shrubs, the view, the byways, the sea. And with these glimpses we know she stays because the town is so particularly beautiful.

Emily Mortimer plays her wide open. She moves into, through, and past the local bureaucracy and against all rumor and logic opens her store. She hires help. She becomes known to the townsfolk and to the matriarch of which who regards her ambition with sterling silver spite. Patricia Clarkson plays this British grand dame as to the manor born. It could not have been played as well by an English actor, for not one of those great ladies would have played her without the comment of a point of view, which always includes the humor of forgiveness.

Clarkson provides none, and in doing so reveals the underside of the character wholly. For, without the humor concurrent with a point of view to excuse her, we must witness the presence of the venom within the fang.

Our heroine’s side is taken by a seething recluse, played by Bill Nighy. You feel his intensity will make the film celluloid curl and ignite. His gazes burns towards the young widow with rays of repressive ice. She is, to herself as to him, out of bounds, so instead of sending him the latest edition of Jane Austen, she sends him wild-assed Ray Bradbury and wins his favor and allegiance.

The bookshop owner is played by Emily Mortimer, an actor new to me, and one of that breed of leading English actors, Colin Firth is another, whose eminence is due not to their particular talent, skills, or temperament but rather to their simple ability to stand before the movie audience and provide an outline into which it can place itself unwittingly. She is very good at this. She is an actor who offers no difficulty but the seduction of a pleasing neutrality.

The film is beautifully directed, edited, and written. And necessarily narrated by Julie Christie. Like Moonlight it will probably be the word-of-mouth picture of the year and end up with awards (which have already begun) that will surprise nobody and gratify all.



16 Jan

Elegy – directed by Isabel Coixet. Romantic Drama. A celebrity professor of 60 and a student fall in love, and try for some history together. 112 minutes Color 2008.
Five stars, because of Penélope Cruz’ performance, with its fluidity, freedom, and accessibility. What a wonderful talent she has, what a beauty of spirit and form. But there is something wrong with the script or the story or with Ben Kingsley as the professor. Let’s start with him, because the film’s subject is so gripping and so beautifully told by the director, that I want to end with that, and get the questionable part out of the way first.

“I am here,” the last line of the script does not work nor does cancer as a dramatic tool. For the professor is a man who won’t commit. So, if the woman is dying of cancer the question of quitting her is no longer moot. Of course he can commit to her: she’s not going to live long. So if the cancer scene at the end is meant for us to believe that he finally does commit, it fails. It is not even strong enough to be ambiguous.

As to Kingsley’s performance, good as he is, he is not a film actor of the order of freedom of brilliance of Cruz, and what that means is that we never see in him the possibility that he might commit. So, for us he is without inner conflict. He is only one thing, non-commital. The character, however, has an open heart. He loves her. To be willing to feel such a love is already to commit, for it is to be taking an enormous risk. Kingsley is able to “act” love, but never to be in love. We never see the other side of his refusal.

However, setting all this aside, as I hope you do, the film is a thoroughly adult treatment of the subject of love. It is not about love’s approaches or love’s departures, but about love itself, what it looks like, how it goes. Abetted so ably by the brilliant supporting playing of Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard, and Patrician Clarkson, the film took my respect and interest and care all along.

The film is very badly titled, irrelevantly titled. It is set in New York City but filmed in Vancouver, so its atmosphere is more drenched than New York’s is, but that hardly matters as the picture unfolds behind its drawn shades and we are let into love’s unlikely clearing in the woods once more. It is not an elegy. It enlarges its subject with the life Cruz brings to it and my hope things will work out and the energy of my attention to those workings. I hope you will agree.

See it.


Lars And The Real Girl

01 Jul

Lars And The Real Girl – directed by Craig Gillespie. Drama. A young man falls for a life-size doll. 106 minutes Color 2007


This piece lacks in pictorial force. The director substitutes histrionic force for it. That is to say we need to see what the actors’ physical bodies are doing, not what their faces are doing, and the reason for that is the female manekin is introduced into their midst as a a living physical being, which brings their body-confidence under attack.  The result is that that, with the exception of Patricia Clarkson, everyone in this piece over-acts, that is to say acts irrelevantly. And this is not a function of the fact that everyone in town comes to accept the doll as an actual personage and behaves well towards her, for the townsfolk themselves do not over-act. But the actors who play the brother, his wife, and the wanna-be girlfriend do. This is not a result of the discomfort natural to the insertion of a manikin as a family fiancée, but simply a permitted miscalculation on the part of the director and of each actor, each of whom over-acts in a different way, the result being that by doing so each one of them distracts from the story, which is being told in a straightforward way as though a manikin as a family member were not unusual at all. What is an actor do with this situation? I’ll tell you what he must do: nothing at all. Don’t act anything. Just stand there and take it in and say your lines. By just saying your lines, you may discover that they do not amount to much in such a situation – and that would have enormous physical carrying power for the story before us, not one single element of which depends upon those characters. They must not “fail to understand him;” they must not “leap over into understanding” him. That is not their job, and the director must not let them take such liberties as to “act” — except this director does not know this. This leaves us with Ryan Gosling, a modest talent, to be sure, but one in this case sufficient to misconstrue the part slightly. Lars relates to the doll lovingly and as a boyfriend would. He is not delusional, and he must not be played that way, so the slight shift Gosling gives in this direction is a misstep, since it is a preset opinion which he walks on with and with which he is stuck throughout the characterization as a formula. He does not play “I am delusional,” mind you, but he does play “naiveté”, a sort of monotonous innocence, to which he adds a small flinch, as though Lars were just slightly brain damaged. Nothing of that sort will work in such a part. The part needs to be played as though there is nothing wrong with this person whatever, and as though he was just an ordinary guy and perfectly normal in buying a life-size doll, falling in love with it, talking to it, and pushing it around town in a wheelchair. But that is not what happens. Or rather, it happens only when Patrician Clarkson is on screen, for that is how she relates to Lars and the doll. And only when she is on screen and when we are watching her and listening to her does Lars become human at all. I feel the piece is rather a missed opportunity. It would be a good idea to remake it one day, with different actors, this time with Gosling in the Clarkson role. For me, my attention was being drawn away to the doll, who seemed more life-like than the humans around her, as though any moment she would breathe, rise from the wheelchair, and kiss him. The potential for life seemed so strong in her, but, alas, in her alone.

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