Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl. Directed by Justin Chadwick & written by Peter Morgan.

Preconceptions: I knew we had this screeching change of pace coming in advance (I know, no vampires in the Other Boleyn Girl, I don't get it either), so I had a chance to look into the versions of the Other Boleyn Girl available to me: a Hollywood blockbuster with Scarlet Johansson and Natalie Portman or something done by the BBC. I decided on the BBC one before I got part of the way down the description of the Hollywood one. The BBC version suffered from a lot of issues, the worst of which was some truly bad directorial choices. There was a lot of spinning the camera around in a dizzying fashion and cutting to the present for no very good reason. It was a bit of a mess and not very entertaining. So I thought maybe I made the wrong choice, maybe this is the type of movie that would benefit from a bit of big budget spectacle. Besides, I like period pieces even when they're weak, so watching a second one was no big imposition.

General Review: It's rare that I get to see an idea castrated so totally. What I like about the Other Boleyn Girl is that it's the story of a wicked man and a wicked woman getting exactly what they deserve from each other, both of them choosing to ignore the better example of Mary (the good and, so, boring one). But this version of the movie decided it would be a good idea to weaken both Henry and Anne to try and make them relatable and make you feel sorry for them despite their consistent bad behaviour. Anne and Henry are most enjoyable as love-to-hate characters and softening them doesn't really make them more likable, it just makes them less fun. As it was, the first half of the movie wanted us to hate Anne for being a manipulative cow and feel a bit sorry for Henry for being a dolt. The second half wanted us to forgive Anne and shake our fists at Henry (who'd turned into a rapist). Do I even need to say that having a character get raped is a cheap way to make them more sympathetic? In the right hands a rape scene can jar me right off my desensitized throne (so can other well pulled off violence), but all this made me do was throw a pillow, cross my arms and scream "emotionally manipulative" at the TV (I'm afraid I make a ridiculous picture when I'm watching movies to review).

While I'm on the subject of the de-fanging (and I'll be on this for a while) why is it that so many movies can sexualize every damn thing except sex itself? Horseback riding? Sexy and fetishized to the point of Anne talking about clamping on things with her thighs. Bathing? Dressing? Highly sexual. But when we get down to the actual intercourse it could be two gauze clad boards rubbing against each other for all the passion the scenes evoke. The BBC version had its problems (oh boy did it, video blog style for something set in the 1500s? Pfft) but in it the sex scenes were at least sexy. I don't just mean they showed a bit of tit and male thigh (though they did) there was a sense of chemistry between the actors.

Finally, and I promise this is my last bit of railing on this point, Chadwick and Morgan wussed out on the incest. Yes, it hinks me out too, but that was an effective way of showing Anne's desperation and fear, unlike the ridiculous rape scene. If they were going to take it out entirely (because it's probably pretty inaccurate, historically) then they should have just been rid of it entirely. Teasing incest and then having the characters decide at the last minute that they can't do it is wimpy.

The movie wasn't entirely a toothless, neutered beast (only mostly) and some of the actors did show skill. Ana Torrent, playing Henry's first Queen Katherine was a cut above the rest of this flick. She had a strong presence and unlike a lot of the actors didn't just deliver her lines in an English accent and figure that was close enough to acting. The scene where she confronts Henry about divorcing her is the strongest the movie gets.Natalie Portman (who I have enjoyed in other things, though I think I may be the only one) didn't give a noteworthy performance. She wasn't exactly bad, but didn't raise herself much beyond being a coat rack that things happened around. I'd love to see her play another wicked witch character a few years down the road with a little more practice, I saw some glimmers of interesting talent. Scarlett Johansson was surprisingly good. Mostly, I just see her in things where she needs to be hot and not a whole lot else (the coat rack school of acting). Her skills weren't stunning in this, but she did manage to hold her own and there were some surprisingly good make-up effects to make her look haggard and not vixen-ly. I have a particular fondness for Eric Bana but there was definitely a part of me shrieking that he wasn't fat or old enough for the role. At least Bana isn't exactly the usual hunky type and I understand that casting someone who looks like Henry wouldn't lend itself to sexual charisma (though they made it work in the Sopranos so this might still be laziness).

In fact, laziness characterizes this movie over all. Anything chancy or scandalous has been snipped out of it and there weren't nearly enough stellar performances to dig it out of the ditch of boring. Sadly, you won't find the BBC version to be a whole lot better (though it is a lot racier). If these two movies could have been fused together there might have been something worth watching, the competence of the production of the Hollywood version melded with the willingness to be daring of the BBC version. Unfortunately, they haven't been and neither part stands on its own.

Aside: I know, I know that stupid B necklace was firmly placed in the book and possibly in history as well-but honestly is something that looks like this what you want your aristocratic character to be wearing?

While looking up "trashy letter necklace" to use in my comparison, the B necklace was on the second page. Clearly, I'm not alone in my thoughts on this matter.

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