The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
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All Critics (14)
| Top Critics (6)
| Fresh (8)
| Rotten (6)
Be a little patient: What builds beneath this quiet exterior, shot through with dark wit, is a haunting examination of the price that romantic idealism can exact.
Plenty emerges as an absorbing and fastidiously made adaptation of David Hare's acclaimed play, but also comes off as cold and ultimately unaffecting.
Whether or not you buy the message, it's a work that qualifies as epic, and reveals Hare as a great Romantic.
There is, possibly, a decent film in Mr. Hare's play, but not as it's been written by him and ornamentally directed by Mr. Schepisi.
The ultimate blame for the film's lack of body must lie with Streep, who never succeeds in melding the components of this showy part into an accessible characterization.
The movie stars Meryl Streep as Susan and it is a performance of great subtlety; it is hard to play an unbalanced, neurotic, self-destructive woman, and do it with such gentleness and charm.
Employing yet another flawless accent, Streep delivers an excellent, restrained but edgy performance, well supported by Dance, Sting, and Ullman, who plays her best friend.
Everything is spelt out laboriously with a glum and squeakily pretentious air.
The role of Susan is custom-made for Streep and she turns in yet another tour de force. ...Susan is genuinely a puzzlement... You may not like her, but you will not forget her.
Offers a highly involving anatomy of disappointment in the life of an idealistic, proud, and strong-willed woman.
Scattershot not terribly compelling drama has good acting from the principles but lacks focus. Meryl's character is hard to like and with the distance of time this has become more interesting for spotting the actors in smaller roles who went on to bigger things like Ian McKellan or became known for other facets of their abilities such as Sting and Tracey Ullman than any great entertainment value.
Plenty belongs in the category of ‘miniature epics’, films which attempt the grand scale and sweep of Gone with the Wind, but on a fraction of the budget and often with a fraction of the story. They are normally romantic dramas or melodramas which have very little real depth but are involving and entertaining in passing. And Plenty is exactly that, containing little that will stimulate the deepest faculties, but also very little which is likely to offend or disgust.
Being a romantic epic, we have to put up with a lot of contrivances, and it takes a good few minutes before we begin to absorb the themes of the film. We have to suspend disbelief very early on if we are to believe that Meryl Streep and Sam Neill can meet, make love and move on inside of ten minutes. This is arguably preferable to Streep’s subsequent epic Out of Africa, in which she and Robert Redford barely held hands before the hundred-minute mark. But it still feels incredibly abrupt, especially since the action quickly shifts forward to the post-war reconstruction.
Plenty is chiefly about how the high hopes and ideals which emerge from desperate situations like wars are gradually compromised by persisting institutions of reality, leading to feelings of disillusionment and personal failure. The characters make a series of highly idealistic statements throughout the film, such as “no-one will work soon” and “everyone will be rich soon”. The film ends with a flashback to Streep standing in a field on a French hillside, proclaiming that “there will be days and days and days like this” – a bitter irony considering all that has unfolded before this point.
What makes Plenty different, and therefore interesting, is that this process of disillusionment is very gradual. There is no single earth-shattering event, like the ending of Chinatown, which causes the characters to resign themselves to the status quo and trudge off into oblivion. The path which the characters take is far closer to that which most of us take in our own lives. We start out with high hopes and relatively clear ambitions, and then we wake up one morning, forty years older and with barely a fraction of them fulfilled. The characters virtually sleepwalk into polite suburban society, and no-one other than Susan has the confidence or self-belief to fight it.
The theme of creeping domesticity runs throughout Plenty, and like the characters we don’t realise the futility and helplessness of the situation until it is too late to escape it. The speed at which their transformations occur varies markedly, and the film does a good job of linking these changes to a process of alienation, whether personal or political. Sir John Gielgud’s character is so effectively built up as a noble, old-fashioned patriot, that it makes perfect sense when he resigns at the height of the Suez crisis. The most poignant of these changes comes at the very end of the film, where Susan and Lazar meet for the second and last time. Up until now, Lazar has been the symbol of Susan’s dream, the yardstick for her own ambitions. But when he admits that he has slowly but surely become suburbanised, Susan’s dreams are shattered and she retreats hopelessly into the past.
Within this general narrative about the battle between plenty and principles, there is an undercurrent about the marginal role of women. About halfway through we have a scene of a committee meeting discussing the logistics of the Queen’s coronation. Susan proposes a solution over when the toasts should be held, and is politely ignored by the chairman; a Viscount then makes an identical suggestion and it is heartily adopted. This theme is supported by Streep’s character, who is so forthright in her decisions and manner; she laughs in the face of rules and conventions, and in most of the scenes where she is surrounded by them she usually has a polite smirk on her face.
Unfortunately, this hints at one of the big problems with Plenty. Although David Hare’s script should be praised for making its characters believable, natural and three-dimensional, there are many long sections in which it neglects to make them likeable. We understand very early on about Susan’s moral compass, and how she must fight for what she believes in. But for a lot of the time she is either not doing this, or doing so in a way which makes it very difficult for us to empathise.
Susan flits from one man to another seemingly on a whim, so that the passage of her character resembles Gregory’s Girl in reverse. When she asks Sting to father a child for her without any strings attached, she justifies it by saying: “perhaps I’m simply out of my time”. The camera then cuts back to Sting, who looks as baffled as we do. Elsewhere she behaves like a spoilt brat, moaning and complaining when things don’t work out; she throws a tantrum on the film set and fires a gun into the ceiling when Sting refuses to leave her. Hence when Charles Dance flings her into the chair and tells her how deeply selfish she is, we all sit their frantically nodding our heads.
An appropriate comparison would be with Julianne Moore’s performance in Savage Grace, which has certain sections which resemble Plenty’s level of sophisticated hysteria. Both Susan Traherne and Barbara Daly Baekeland get a kick out of being outrageous in polite company: compare Susan’s rant in the dining room with Barbara’s blistering tirade at the airport. But what separates the two is a layer of vulnerability and distress which an audience can connect with. When Barbara breaks down outside the airport, we genuinely understand how confused and betrayed she feels; we have witnessed her outrageous side, and then we come to understand it.
There are moments in Plenty where this happens, but they are few and far between and are not explored in nearly enough detail. Much of the script is occupied with bizarrely comic moments which feel like complete non sequiturs. The weirdest of these comes in the jazz café, where Tracey Ullman’s remarks: “that’s Alasdair, the one who’s meant to have hair on his shoulder-blades and apparently can crack walnuts in his armpits.” Later on Gielgud remarks that their Burmese guest “had his tongue so far up my fundament that all you could see were the soles of his feet”. Moments like this distract both us and the characters, undermining any sense of atmosphere that has been created.
On top of this the film is incredibly stagey, with many overly long scenes packed with overly long speeches. A lot of Fred Schepisi’s direction seems pre-occupied with distracting us from this – in the long scene between Susan and the ambassadors, he flings in a few random zooms and dolly shots in a futile attempt to fool us. Ian Baker’s cinematography is dim and drizzly, and there is bad continuity in places; in one scene Sting’s hair is still ginger, as if he had come straight from the set of Dune.
Overall Plenty is a decent drama which is lifted by the good work of its cast. Alongside Messrs. Dance and Gielgud, Sir Ian McKellen puts in a good performance as the head of the diplomatic service, and there are pleasant cameos from Hugh Laurie and Hugo de Vernier (from the Pink Panther films). But despite its strengths the film is deeply flawed; it is too theatrical in its execution and has far too frustrating a lead to pass muster as a proper epic. Given the choice between this and Out of Africa, this is the better film, but its title aside it has little that could be called plentiful.
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