Lolita (1998)

Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Stephen Schiff, based on the novel by Vladmir Nabokov
Starring Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Frank Langella, Melanie Griffith, Suzanne Shepherd

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Well, it's all over but the shouting and I'll say this first of all and get it out of the way.  It's a sorry state of affairs here in the good old U.S. of A. when a movie can't get distribution because of its subject matter.  I will also say this: anyone who thinks that this film promotes pedophilia as a pastime is a fidiot.  Now, on with the review.

Humbert Humbert (Irons) is a broken man, and not just because he has the same name twice.  When he was fourteen, he met a girl named Annabelle (Emma Griffiths Malin), with whom he fell madly in love.  When she died of typhus, he was never able to get over the loss.  After coming to the United States he, through circumstances beyond his control, faces the prospect of renting a room from Charlotte Haze (Griffith). The thing that convinces him to stay is Dolores (Swain), Charlotte's daughter.  In Humbert's mind, Dolores becomes Lolita, a nymphet who can fill the hole in him left by the death of his teen love.  Humbert is pushing fifty, if I remember correctly.  Thus, you see can see the problems inherent here.

I have not seen the original Kubrick version, nor have I read the book.  I assure you I plan on fixing both of these deficiencies as soon as possible.  Therefore, I can actually view this film as an independent entity.  And let me tell you, Lyne's vision is a disturbed one.  Both leads are incredible.  Irons is a portrait of powerlessness.  Watching his slow deterioration into ruin was reminiscent of his dual performance in Dead Ringers, for which he won the Oscar in 1990, and just as disturbing.  Also our Lolita is played by Dominique Swain.  This is her first film, which is even more impressive when you see how she's able to keep up with Irons.  She is able to express the wide range of tenderness, innocence and cruelty that the part calls for--and she does it very well.  Also worth noting is Langella's Quilty, who begins as a menacing shadowy figure whose face is never seen only to deteriorate as well to an impotent floundering fool at the end of the film.  Nicely done for all three.  Griffith seems out of place but makes the most of her role.

The film is remarkably...disturbing.  There's no other way to put it.  There's no titillation watching Humbert and Lolita wrestle naked (body double, it was a body double, don't panic) on a bed, fighting over money, Humbert saying, "You can't raise the price in the middle."  It's pathetic and painful, actually, watching the two of them spiral downwards.  And that's what works in the film.  The problem comes in with Lyne's direction.  First and foremost, the film feels about twenty-thirty minutes too long, most of that dealing with scenes in which Humbert stands, sits, or leans helpless in the sway of Lolita.  They're well acted, but we got the point a while back and they do little to advance the story.  Also, the scene in which Quilty is introduced is set on the front porch of a hotel, Quilty in his rocking chair, face obscured, with moths electrocuting themselves in a bug light--which the camera repeatedly focuses on.  Unsettling?  Effective?  Yes.  Incongruous with the rest of the film?  Quite.  Still, don't get me wrong.  This a fairly worthy film, just a tad too much of it.  Go rent it just to piss off the censors, if for no other reason.

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