Well, I’ve finally seen THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, MILK, THE READER, and DOUBT.
How many Americans or NLT readers can say THAT? I haven’t seen REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, it’s true, because it hasn’t come to my town. But I accept in advance the criticism that the movie turns the novel’s smart satire (of haute bourgeois whining) into tragedy (in the stupid mode of AMERICAN BEAUTY).
All the films I saw are well made and feature excellent performances. But they are all shamelessly and, in my case, unsuccessfully manipulative--with the exception of DOUBT. DOUBT captured my attention as a realistic portrayal of the way people really are.
The distinguished Dan Mahoney told me yesterday that he doubted he would see DOUBT because it portrays for our contempt a rigidly authoritarian nun. But that’s exactly what it doesn’t do. Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the Mother Superior/principal of the early 1960s--a breed that has disappeared completely--is uncannily accurate. And there’s nothing rigid or authoritarian about her. She has her doubts, but she keeps them to herself, and she leads with authority--and brilliant cleverness--out of genuine love. We see what was so good about the old working-class parochial schools, as well as what wasn’t so good about a complacent church on the brink of semi-collapse. So DOUBT is all about feminism rightly understood. It’s also about the sometimes criminal (and aggressivley unremorseful) self-induglence that was liberated in the Sixties out of trendy doubt and lawless love. There’s more for traditionalist than progressive Catholics to like about this movie, although it should make both groups somewhat uncomfortable. This message movie is unfashionable enough to have all the principals nominated for Oscars but not the film as a whole. (It’s also an injustice that DARK KNIGHT wasn’t nominated, by the way.)
All the other films I saw were naive by comparison. Quick reviews: CURIOUS CASE, RACHEL and THE READER are creepy incredible in different ways. SLUMDOG’s manipulations are overtly shameless and mean to be in the service of huge and edifying sentimental entertainment. I just wasn’t that entertained by the really silly premise. BUT the Indian game show host is a large and interesting character, and India is displayed as an endlessly fascinating and very crowded country full of charming, if often criminally ruthless, entrepreneurs on the make. I’m glad India is our ally, although I’m not that interested in visiting there soon. MILK on one level is shameless propaganda, and it’s useless to criticize that fact. It also shows that we’re still not ready for an authentic gay men are people too movie. I’m ready to believe that Harvey Milk was a rather remarkable and effective political figure, but this movie goes the hagiography route. Sean Penn’s acting is more subtle than the words he’s given to say.