Posted on 2/22/13 11:35 PM
Greta Garbo She Ain't
One of my favourite parts of awards season is the odd categories certain of the more obscure awards have. Tonight's film has won "Films We Most Wanted to Love and Couldn't" from some group or another. My summary was that it turns out that this is how you stop that Tom Stoppard--he's a brilliant writer, nominated for an Oscar for Brazil and the winner of one for his final polish on Shakespeare in Love. Brilliant and funny as he is, he couldn't help this movie. I have seldom been so grateful to have missed seeing an Oscarpalooza film in the theatre, to have avoided wasting the money. Miriah, bless her, paid to rent it, and we watched it this evening. The only way I got through it was with her; this was a movie that required someone who disliked it just as much. It was certainly lovely, but it takes a lot more than "lovely" to be worth watching. "Interesting" is a lot more important, for example.
Anna (Kiera Knightley) is married to the saintly Karenin (Jude Law). They live in Saint Petersburg in the 1870s. One day, she gets a letter from her brother, Oblonsky (Matthew MacFadyen), begging her for help. His wife, Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), has discovered that he's having an affair with the governess. He begs Anna to come out and save his marriage. While she is there, she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is courting Dolly's sister, Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Kitty is also being courted by Oblonsky's old friend, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). However, he gives up to soon; the night he leaves, rejected, for his country home, Vronsky and Anna catch one another's eyes in the ballroom, and it's all downhill from there. Despite how kind and saintly and so forth Jude Law, Anna is (allegedly) strangely, powerfully attracted to Vronsky. She does not care where her obsession takes her, and she and Vronsky become lovers. And for some reason, there are all these shots of the wheels of trains . . . .
Okay, the filming was way better than Les Mis, despite the fact that Les Mis was in almost every way a better movie. It was kind of this weird cross between Chicago and Moulin Rouge!, only not as good as either. Almost all the action takes place inside a theatre, and there are several moments when it is hard to tell whether the events are real or a dream. If the plot were simpler, this would actually be an extremely effective way of filming, calling up as it does the "it's all in Roxy's head" aspect of Chicago, for example. However, since the plot is enormously complicated and it's almost impossible to keep track who is related how to whom, adding another layer of complication on top was just a bad, bad idea. And while supposedly, the only person to break out of the theatre is Levin, the most real and down-to-Earth of the characters, there are several scenes between other characters which don't look like they're in the theatre, which surely misses the point.
Worse, there is no chemistry between Anna and Vronsky, and neither one is terribly interesting. At one point, just as we were starting to demand how on Earth anyone could make some of the decisions Anna did, we get a quick flash of a morphine bottle. From that point on, we just blamed everything about the movie on morphine--either because of the characters or because of the director. Vronsky looked rather like the Imperial Russian equivalent of a frat boy, and at one point or another, he seems to wear pretty much every uniform in use by the entire Russian army at that point. Anna is petty and selfish, and I never quite made the leap to, "Of course she is! She's in love!" She just seemed to be petty and selfish by nature, and we could not understand how anyone, even anyone as childish as Anna, could leave Saint Jude Law for, well, that. Probably the sex was better, but good sex with that boy isn't worth having to put up with him.
Oh, it's surely a pretty movie. I only liked perhaps a third or so of the costumes--there's one dress Anna wears that would be so much better if she weren't wearing a pale pink hat with it--but the costumes I did like were really quite impressive. I will say that even the ones I didn't like were, for the most part, beyond my skill as a costumer, and that's one of my standards for Oscar-worthy costuming, as long-time readers surely know. The waltz scene was just ridiculous; I could see what they were trying to do, but what they succeeded in doing was making me laugh. It's up this year for Score, Cinematography, Production Design, and Costume Design. Every iffy score nomination makes it that much more likely that John Williams will finally win again, so there's that. I think it's going to lose Production Design to The Hobbit and Cinematography, from what I hear, to Life of Pi. But I wouldn't hate it if it won for Costume Design. It would keep Snow White and the Huntsman from being an Oscar-winning film, anyway.