Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wuthering Tom Barrymore

     There was just no really clever way to combine those names...sigh.  In today's at home viewing selections we feature:  a cinematic presentation of a stage play recreation of a backer's audition man show, a somewhat re-imagined adaptation of an English literary classic and a story of a youth between worlds.  Let's dive in...

  Tomboy - After skewering their picture A Perfect Ending as recruitment propaganda in The Great Gay Film Festival of 2010, I am happy to be able to shine a more favorable light upon one of  Wolfe's films in such short order.  Tomboy, by contrast, is a story of self-discovery, one that young writer/director Celine Sciamma unravels one naturally occurring layer at a time.
     At the center of the film is young star Zoe Heran who plays a young, somewhat androgynous girl named Laure who takes on the identity of Mickael in the new neighborhood her family moves to.  Laure is too young to really grasp the issues of sexual orientation or gender identity in any adult sort of way.  She only knows how she feels, and she knows she likes a young girl in her building who has a crush on her as Mickael.  We watch her work at becoming more and more convincing as a boy, gaining our sympathies and understanding all the way.  It is truly a wonderful child performance, one that would have factored into my Best of 2011 series had I seen it before I published the Best Juvenile Performance list.
      Two other young members of this film's cast might also have been contenders.  Malonn Levana plays Laure's younger sister Jeanne, and she is an absolute delight as a very young girl possessing intelligence, courage and humor.  She alone really sees and accepts Laure/Mikael for who he/she is, the total package.  Jeanne Disson plays Mikael's love interest Lisa who is drawn to Mikael as a boy and must wrestle with some very adult emotions when she learns the truth.
     I really enjoyed and respected this film.  It was one of the most believable and organically told gay coming of age movies I've ever had the pleasure of watching.  Highly worth checking out...4 of 5 stars.

    Barrymore - This is the film adaptation of the one (well, two) man stage play in which Christopher Plummer plays an aging Lionel Barrymore at a backers' audition for a revival of Richard III.  I can only assume that the film was planned as an Oscar play for Plummer when he had not yet won one.  When he won for Beginners, the work of making this film had probably gone too far to bother turning back.  I say this because writer/director Erik Canuel has made a film that looks very much like a taped version of a stage play. Worse than that, it is edited together like a stage comedy show turned into a special on Comedy Central.
     I sincerely wish that the production values HAD been a little higher because it spoils what is otherwise a powerhouse performance by Plummer who only seems to grow in energy and determination as the years roll by.  There are also many elements in the script that explore themes related to aging in a subtle yet penetrating manner that would have been great fodder for one of my upcoming Running Themes articles if the movie had deserved a four star rating or more. As good as Plummer is, the picture overall only rates...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Wuthering Heights - I waited a long time to see writer/director Andrea Arnold's latest retelling of this Emily Bronte romance.  After premiering in Venice in 2011, the film received a VERY limited release in 2012, and finally came out on DVD a few weeks ago.  Arnold makes several interesting choices.  First, she casts the film almost entirely with unknown actors.  In fact, James Howson, who plays Heathcliffe, has only appeared in this one film.  It is easy to see why Arnold chose the young man, as he radiates a screen presence that somehow conveys the improbable smoldering nature of this almost sexless love story.  His portrayal is easy and unforced and seems too lacking in self consciousness to have come from such an inexperienced source.
     Her OTHER really interesting choice was casting Heathcliffe as a black man, which I thought worked out splendidly.  A more modern audience has a harder time relating to the strictures of the English class system in Victorian England.  Making Heathcliffe black not only heightens the exotic allure that he holds but also makes it easier to understand what sort of impediments existed to deter his marrying into his foster family.
     The film also makes a first rate showing on the craft side of things.  Production and costume design are impressive without being ostentatious.   The Editing and camera work are creative and effective.  The film's only flaw is that it never quite breaks free of the morass of bleakness it conveys in moments of true passion.  The tone may smolder throughout, but I kept waiting for a spark to ignite, if only for a moment.  Still, a good watch...4 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles: The Great Gay Film Festival of 2012The Best of 2011: The Performances (Part One)

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