Written by David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Stephen Dillane
My Advice: Matinee.
Virginia Woolf (Kidman) is writing a book. The name of the book is Mrs. Dalloway, and it's being read a few decades after Woolf's death by Laura Brown (Moore), a 50s housewife who's trapped in a world that she can't seem to cope with--despite having a loving, doting husband (John C. Reilly). And much later than that, in the present day, Clarissa Vaughan (dubbed "Mrs. Dalloway" by a former lover) is planning a party for the aforementioned lover (Harris), who's receiving an award for his poetry at the same time that he's half-mad and dying of AIDS.
This is a film that Brother Dave would refer to as "hard sayins." It's an extremely intense portrait of alienation, depression, madness and suicide. And while many have referred to this as a film that only women will understand, I can't agree. Anyone can relate to Julianne Moore's Laura, finding herself trapped in someone else's view of what her life should be. Or Meryl Streep's Clarissa trying to hold on to one of the very few exemplary things in her life. Kidman's Woolf is a bit of a stretch to relate to, since probably artists will be the ones able to understand what it's like to be trapped within your own head and trying not to let the confinement kill you. Multiple viewings (stretched out over a period of time--let's not be masochistic here) are required to take in everything that this has to offer.
What you get on the first screening is that the acting is all incredible--although the standouts would have to be Moore, Kidman and Harris. Ed Harris gets a total of two scenes, but in them is able to portray everything you need to know. He's Ed Harris, after all, an acting god. Moore's role is a bit harder to pin down, since you only find out her reasons for being as she is after you've seen most of her scenes--but she handles it perfectly. Much has been made of Kidman's nose in this role--but the really impressive transformation is the internal one, and her fight with her own mind...which she's losing. I will say that it's nice to see some good old age makeup...we've come a long way since For the Boys, haven't we?
Daldry continues to impress. The first flick of his that we caught, Billy Elliott, was able to take the tried and true and tired "My father doesn't understand my life choices" subgenre and make it something completely new. Now, he's taken what's evidently a very dense book and brought it to the screen, being able to take a stellar cast and get amazing performances from everyone. Philip Glass' work on the film is just as impressive, although I must admit that he blew past the mark on a couple of brief instances...and to be able to overpower the emotion on screen in this movie is a feat in itself.
Watching this film is not easy, but it is rewarding and thought provoking. There's no one thing to walk away with, but a desire to discuss what's transpired with others and better understand it. And for a film these days to invoke that kind of feeling is unique, indeed.
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