28 August 2007

Review: Becoming Jane


Genre: Drama / Historical Romance

The bird just doesn't fly. It just doesn't. And by "the bird" I mean the ill-constructed, mottled fledgling that proposes to be this film - o, and Ms. Hathaway as well, whose work I will address first.
Now, Ms. Hathaway and I have been acquainted, actress and film-goer, since her first small debut in the much underappreciated Nicholas Nickleby (2002). It was then, when she played the subdued love-interest of the similarly tiered Charlie Hunnam playing Nickleby, when I first thought that she would succeed on to bigger and desiredly better roles; then, when I believed she could be a great actress...maybe. Only time and more films would obviously be able to tell. So, I waited, and I watched: her practicing in her first 'popular' role as the lead in The Princess Diaries (in which she was priviledged to spend much screentime with the celebrated Ms. Andrews), her bobbling (not to be bilked) in a second role of the like in Ella Enchanted and then a third in The Princess Diaries 2, and finally her returning to a testing shot in Mr. Lee's breath-taking Brokeback Mountain. While she in my eyes failed to stand out as did the rest of her young castmates from the film, she appeared not thoroughly raw and inappropriate, a still improving talent who with more time and well-nurturing guidance could yet achieve serious status. More time then, and she took on the following summer the blockbuster hit The Devil Wears Prada, an almost make-it-or-break-it opportunity for her to prove herself, as she matched wits and skills with one of the screen's legendary personages: the great Ms. Streep. Now, of course it helped her none that Ms. Streep was, not merely good (as she is always apt to be), but rather exceptional, turning in what I believe to be one of her strongest and most studied performances as the viciously fabulous Miranda Priestley; and this fact, woeful for Ms. Hathway as it may have been, I entirely acknowledge and consider. But, it was impossible for me to ignore the utter travesty she suffered, when her acclaimed castmate, not only shined in her (technically supporting role), but also and moreover upstaged her, the lead(!), to such an extent, that there was barely leave room on the critics' papers for the merest comment about what was to be her cementing role - not to mention the little gem that was Ms. Streep's Leading(!) Actress Oscar nomination. Ms. Hathaway might have as well been a mannequin with a cursory voice-over. Needless to say: I was not impressed. Still, I decided, she ought to have one more fair shot at redeeming her potential, and that shot came quite appropriately in a Jane Austen adaptation, what is yet another godsend opportunity for young actresses like herself to prove their mettle as "serious" talents, to tumble with the likes of the nimble Mr. Cromwell and the iconic Dame Maggie Smith. I mean, consider Ms. Winslet, who rose to glory as the winsome and passionate Marianne in Mr. Lee and Ms. Thompson's brilliant Sense and Sensibility; or - even better - consider the more recent Ms. Knightley, whose film's character structure is nearly the double of Becoming Jane's and who won herself respectability (and a Leading Actress Oscar nomination) matching with the wonderful Ms. Blethyn and the forceful Dame Judi Dench. Yet, I am sorry to say that Ms. Hathaway's work in the film, besides the film's own faults, was in no way similar to her aforementioned peers'. It was just not up to the mark, not in the least. It is a rather unfortunate consequence to admit, yes, but she has failed to "bring it" one too many times and, I fear, thus has, not only failed to give rise to this latest attempt, but more importantly failed to give rise to her career. I do wish her luck, but I must say that I cannot at this time pronounce her to be in any way a ready talent, ripe for the plucking.
OK, now on to the film: Becoming Jane's flaws are plural, many misguided attempts at throwing together greatness without a (discernible) idea of from where greatness actually foments behind them. Sure, one can collect several celebrated actors and throw them into a period Austen piece designed to by its very nature dupe audiences into thinking it and perhaps even calling it expressly a work of serious, unartificial merit; but from the discerning film-goer no such ballyhooing can ever disguise a ploy such as that, to be what it truly isn't - and, I believe judging by the film's August release date (i. e., the we-don't-consider-this-awards-fare-anymore release date), that it couldn't be disguised from the studios either. The structure of the screenplay was a poor duplicate at best, much like the last facsimile made by a dying copy machine: yes, you can make out some of the original but the whole fullness of the design just isn't there anymore. Yet, somehow that analogy is not entirely accurate. Becoming Jane was not just the mindless redubbing of (Knightley's) well done Pride and Prejudice; no, it was more the redubbing of that film and Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and the rest of the Austen canon, haphazardly clipped and collaged with Elmer's before the copy machine ever laid scanner on it. OK, I'll stop the bashing, but I'm not very far from the truth here.
As far as the rest of the film goes (e. g., costumes [which usually bring a redeeming feature], cinematog., [other] acting, art direction, score), the work was average: mostly unremarkable and middle of the road, with brief trips toward the extremes with equal measure, as is expected of the majority of films. Only one feature for me is worth specific mention: Mr. McAvoy's spry and dandy Mr. Lefroy is another reason for me to believe in him, that he could be a "serious talent".

Grade: C-

(For all my talk you may assume that I have an idea of what such a snippet comment means, that I am an expert on the matter, or at least that I think I'm an expert, but I'm just a blogger, trying his observations on the world, in hope to piece together something better.)

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