Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Crooked House, or: Make a Mountain of a Mole Hill

And then there were none…except for one last film of period drama month. This week brings us a family of ritzy one percenters, a disputed inheritance, and…murder? That’s right–not only is this film a period drama, but also an Agatha Christie murder mystery. And yes, that does rhyme.

The Film:

Crooked House

The Premise:

The granddaughter of a recently deceased businessman hires her former lover to investigate the circumstances surrounding his…murder?

The Ramble:

After the death of the family patriarch Aristide, the Leonides family is in mourning but not overly troubled. Everyone, that is, except for granddaughter Sophia. Suspecting he was poisoned with his own glaucoma treatment, Sophia hires former lover Charles, now a private investigator. Charles initially dismisses her request to find out the truth about her grandfather’s death, but his lingering feelings for Sophia and detective’s determination quickly change his mind.

a woman smoking a cigarette sits across from a man at a disorganized desk

In order to learn what happened, Charles will need to cozy up to the family…and they are a quirky bunch indeed. Good thing he was also a spy posing as a diplomat in Cairo, which is a relevant detail for some reason…?

An appropriately fierce Glenn Close plays Aristide’s sister-in-law from his first marriage, and is engaged in hunting down moles with a shotgun when she makes her first appearance.

Meanwhile, a rather glam pseudo-goth Gillian Anderson is a dramatic former actress who mostly lounges around drinking.

a woman with dark hair wearing black sprawls across a chaise lounge

Aristide’s sons are constantly at odds over disputes surrounding the family business. The younger son is convinced that Aristide’s much younger wife Brenda is responsible for his father’s murder.

The only staff still around the house are the cook and the nanny, who cares for youngest grandchild Josephine. Fancying herself something of a detective, Josephine observes the family and takes careful notes of their activity.

Brenda’s scandalous past as a Vegas showgirl makes her suspect to the family, while Brenda herself appears to deeply mourn Aristide’s death and resents the family’s mooching. She does confess to giving Aristide the injection that killed him, though she believed it to be his daily dose of insulin.

a group of family members sit at an elegantly set dining table

As Sophia and Charles become close again, Charles begins to uncover the family’s dirt, including the deceased. Aristide was apparently a piece of work, overlooking his first son in favor of his second, controlling his grandchildren’s lives, and sort of generally being a manipulative dickbag.

In a shocking twist, Charles learns that Arisitde’s final will was never signed; therefore, the next of kin, aka Brenda, is set to inherit everything.

When the nanny turns up dead, finding the killer takes on a new sense of urgency. After twists and turns aplenty, Charles believes he’s finally unraveled the truth–but is it too late?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m obsessed with Glenn and Gillian in this film, but, like most of the actors here, they are extremely underutilized. They don’t really get a lot to do, and our focus here is on Charles, who is pretty fucking boring, honestly. Admittedly, I kind of checked out whenever we got the scandalous details of his sordid past (lol), but I’m still not totally sure why everyone kept talking about him being a spy; I really expected this plot point to tie in better with the rest of the story.

I don’t know what it was about this film, but there was something about it that felt more like a parody of an Agatha Christie novel rather than the real thing. And maybe because of the cynical times we live in, I suspected the murderer almost immediately and the reveal didn’t have the shock factor it was meant to.

However, the moments we do get from the phenomenal cast are great, and the costuming is to die for. Literally.

Would my lovely blog wife drink in excess with this one or take a shotgun to it like an unwelcome mole in the garden? Read her review here to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Daughters of the Dust, or: Nana Knows Best

Period dramas continue!  This week we cross the pond to southern Georgia for a look at a dying way of life and the determination to hold onto heritage in spite of this.

The Film:

Daughters of the Dust

The Premise:

The extended branches of a Gullah family in Georgia reunite for a final celebration together before leaving the island they’ve inhabited for years.

The Ramble:

At Ibo Landing in 1902 Georgia, the Peazant family gathers from far and wide as they prepare to leave their home.  The Peazants are Gullah, a people whose ancestors were slaves brought from Africa and have lived on an island in Ibo Landing for generations.  Seeking new opportunities north, the family determines they will leave this land behind–though some are more on board with this plan than others.

a group of African-Americans in early 20th century clothing stand on a sandy beach

Cousins Viola and Yellow Mary travel to the island for a final meal with their family on their ancestral lands.  The two are rather different:  Viola is religious and optimistic about opportunities that await north.  Meanwhile, Yellow Mary was scandalously banished from the family years ago, now returning with her lady lover Trula.  Yellow Mary is welcomed only by Eula, her cousin by marriage.

Eula is deeply conflicted about her pregnancy, as she is married to and loves her husband Eli; however, she was raped on the mainland and is unsure who the baby’s father is.  She hopes to convince Eli that the baby is his no matter what, but Eli’s feelings of anger and helplessness will not abate.  Our story is narrated by this child, a daughter who already feels a connection to her grandmother.

Nana, the family’s grandmother and oldest member, feels that leaving Ibo Landing is unnatural and an effective abandonment of the family’s culture.  She encourages the younger generations to connect to the ancestors and celebrate the ways of their people.

a woman seated in a chair holds the shoulders of a woman crouching in front of her

Honestly, there’s not a lot of structure to this film’s narrative, but given that the entire family is gathered for a reunion dinner, clearly there will be drama.  Are the bonds of family and culture enough to keep everyone together in spirit if not in location?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is beautifully shot and very clearly a labor of love.  The characters, especially the women, shine here.  I enjoy seeing the power and determination of Nana, Eula, and Yellow Mary as they remain true to themselves.  The relationship between Eula and Yellow Mary is especially great too.  It’s so wonderful to see how the film works as a meta-narrative, emphasizing the importance of preserving and embracing Gullah heritage, while itself acting as an intentional preservation and celebration of this history.

However, personally, I prefer a bit more narrative structure in a film.  The focus here is on the family’s relationships with their culture and each other rather than the specific events of the story, but I still wanted to a little more action going on.

Will my blog wife stay connected to this film or leave it behind without a backward glance?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Royal Night Out, or: God, Raves the Queen

If you can’t party after literally defeating the Nazis in Europe, when exactly is an appropriate time to celebrate?  That is the philosophical question this week’s film considers, while also pondering how many people in 1945 England just happened to have Hitler effigies lying around for an improvised Bonfire Night.

The Film:

A Royal Night Out

The Premise:

After the Allied victory in WWII, princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spend a wild night out on the town.

The Ramble:

May 8, 1945, aka VE Day.  It seems as if all of London is off to celebrate–everyone, that is, except for two Windsor princesses very much in need of a night out.

After much pleading with their parents, Elizabeth and Margaret finally strike a deal:  the two sisters will get a night out until 1:00am, provided they return with a report on how the masses respond to the King’s midnight address (most likely feedback:  who the eff picks midnight as a good time to address the nation?!?!).  Though they will attempt to blend in with the crowd, they will be accompanied by two royal guards, who will serve as their chaperones.

A woman in a blue suit and a man in an officer's uniform stand in an elegantly decorated room.

Margaret is so ready to party that she doesn’t even care.  Dressed in matching pink, the two are vaguely reminiscent of the twins in The Shining as they descend the grand staircase.  I absolutely cannot imagine willingly matching my sister’s outfit for a night out on the town, but hey…different times.

Almost immediately, the princesses’ plans seem to be thwarted when they end up in a ritzy party full of the stuffy old nobility (is there any other kind?).  Margaret gets into shenanigans with a naval officer and easily ditches all members of her party.  Elizabeth loses the guards too, but doesn’t manage to catch up with her sister.

While Elizabeth does manage to hitch a ride on the bus in pursuit of Margaret, she is on a decidedly less fun bus.  Even on the boring regular bus, fares must be paid–a thought that hasn’t occurred to Elizabeth.  Luckily, her seatmate Jack, an airman, comes to the rescue by paying her fare, though they both manage to fall off the bus in a way that’s sweet in a rom-com, but would be horrendously painful in real life.

A young woman on a bus drinks alcohol from a glass, surrounded by other revelers.

Having failed to track down Margaret, Elizabeth is in a bar when the clock strikes midnight.  The rowdy masses quiet down and respectfully listen to George’s speech–everyone except for Jack.  He reacts angrily to the speech and dismisses all of the posh gits in power.  Elizabeth is annoyed but needs help getting to Trafalgar Square, where she believes she’ll find Margaret.  There are so many goddamn people in that square that that I would have immediately turned around and gone home, sister or no sister.

Margaret has, in fact, gone to Trafalgar–but by now she’s on her way to a house of ill repute with , who drugs her drink(!?!??!?!).  The owner of this establishment, who seems to be some kind of mafioso (or whatever kind of person just happens to collect horse heads in a bucket), comes to her rescue.  True to form, Margaret is keen to get to the next place rumored to have a great party, and she now has a new escort.

Two young women swing dance together, wearing pink dresses and gloves.

Elizabeth and Margaret finally reunite, though their guards and the military police happen to arrive at the same location.  When the military police seize Jack, Elizabeth reveals her true identity.  But can she help him even though he can never be…part of her world?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Imagine a film is made about your epic night out…and you basically just drink and dance and come home a little past curfew.  Don’t get me wrong–our leads in the film are great, and Princess Margaret is appropriately the queen of partying.  (Speaking of the cast, I would have killed for Emily Watson and Rupert Everett to have more to do; I love them so much, but most of their cues in the script must have been “look disapproving.”)  However, this night out is a bit of a non-story, and I have trouble understanding the point of this film.  We learn about the experiences of royalty and civilian alike during the war, and even get a sobering look at neighborhoods bombed in the Blitz.  Everything else about this film is so breezy that these moments don’t have the emotional impact they should.

For a film about a night out, there’s a lot of time spent running around London in a farcical way, which gets tiresome.  And it may not be a great sign for a film when a decent number of major plot points remind me of Disney’s Aladdin?  But without the catchy songs and upbeat genie sidekick.  Perhaps I also had unrealistic expectations of how the film’s plot would play out.

Things I Expected But Did Not Happen in This Film:

  • Rupert Everett and Emily Watson are crowned the actual King and Queen of England in honor of their disapproving frowns
  • Princess Margaret runs away and becomes an acrobat but is fired after she tries to skin the circus animals to make a fur shrug
  • Princess Elizabeth joins a group of anarchists determined to rid the UK of the monarchy
  • Jeeves and Wooster are chased around a nightclub after stealing a cow creamer

Things That Did Happen in This Film:

  • Elizabeth rather elegantly chugs a pint
  • Margaret goes to a club of ill repute and refers to herself as P2 in an incredibly posh manner
  • Elizabeth pushes around a passed out Margaret in a wheelbarrow
  • Emily Watson as the Queen Mother imperiously asks “Hwhere have you been?”
  • King George VI reveals his most secret (and arguably saddest) desire:  to ride public transit

The moral of the story is I only care about the royal family when they’re being insane, and there’s not a ton of that going on here.  Where is the Princess Margaret movie we deserve???

Would my blog wife crown this one queen or wear the crown herself?  Find out in her review here!

Film Reviews

Thousand Pieces of Gold, or: My Own Prospecting Idaho

It.  Is.  Period drama month!!!  To celebrate, I’m throwing an extra period drama or two into this month’s lineup, along with our usual Blog Collab programming.  The only thing I love more than a period drama is a socially conscious period drama, so this film scores major points with me.

The Film:

Thousand Pieces of Gold

The Premise:

After being sold as a bride in the States, Chinese-American Lalu attempts to take charge of her destiny and forge a life for herself.

The Ramble:

Lalu and her family belong to a group of nomadic shepherds in remote northern China.  After an especially bad drought, the family is starving, and it seems unlikely everyone will survive.  Lalu’s father makes the heartbreaking decision to sell her as a mail-order bride so she and the rest of the family can live.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reality of Lalu’s situation is hidden and, rather than becoming a bride, she is sold at auction to a Chinese trader named Li Po.  Unbeknownst to her, Li Po works for a man who operates a saloon and brothel as the gold rush winds down in Idaho.

a woman on horseback rides next to a man riding a horse, mountains in the background

Along the way to the States, Lalu is relieved to have someone to talk to and remember the Chinese legends surrounding the constellations.  Li Po also helps Lalu learn some basic English so she can avoid the creepy men of the States, but he doesn’t stay around long enough to help her much beyond that.

Upon arriving in Idaho, Lalu realizes Li Po’s employer Hong King doesn’t intend to marry her at all; in fact, he intends to hire her out as a sex worker…while he keeps all of the profits, of course.  Lalu becomes Polly as Hong King assures her this will be easier for white people to understand.

Shockingly, the white men of small-town Idaho are pretty much garbage except for Hong King’s friend Charlie.  He shows Lalu around town and points out Chinatown, a small but bustling part of the town.

After Aunt Zelda from Sabrina the Teenage Witch(!) gets Lalu ready, she will make her debut at the saloon.  Hong King plans to accept the highest bid for Lalu, but no one is particularly interested after she fights off a man who gets handsy.  Charlie, who owns the saloon, intervenes and demands Hong King find other work for Lalu.  As a compromise, Lalu works for Hong King cooking and cleaning, but still has to sleep with him.  Gross.

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Eventually, Li Po returns to Idaho and Lalu confronts him about his role in selling her to Hong King.  Li Po promises to buy Lalu’s freedom, but it will take time to earn enough money.  Pleased with Li Po’s promise, Lalu sleeps with him…which leads Hong King to beat a dead horse yet again (not a euphemism).  Hong King decides that, since Lalu consents to sex with one man, she should earn him some money by sleeping with other men.

a man dressed as a cowboy holds hands with a woman, while a man in the background looks on

Again, Charlie intervenes, challenging Hong King to a game of cards.  Charlie wagers the deed to the bar against Lalu’s freedom, winning the game.  Lalu, afraid that Charlie will just gamble her away to someone else, resists his advances.  Charlie is disappointed Lalu isn’t more grateful (eye roll), but he does leave her alone.  He tells Lalu she is free, and she begins to take in laundry to earn a living.

Shortly after, Li Po arrives back in town with the money to buy Lalu from Hong King.  When he discovers Lalu now lives with Charlie, he is scandalized and leaves town again without waiting for an explanation.  Lalu is heartbroken but determined to be independent.  Despite Charlie’s objections, she moves out and manages the boarding house, saving as much money as she can to return to China.

a man leans down, presenting a woman seated in a field with a small bouquet of wildflowers

Now an independent lady, Lalu attends Chinese New Year celebrations with Charlie.  The festivities are cut short when a group of racist dudes show up and injure several people, including Charlie.  Soon after, all Chinese immigrants in the area are given eviction notices and told to leave town.  Though Charlie hopes Lalu will stay, she believes she will never belong in Idaho and remains intent on leaving for China.

With her Chinese and American identities pulling her in opposing directions, where can Lalu call home?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is totally a romance novel in disguise and I love it.  However, as a period drama it takes on issues I’ve almost never seen on film:  real laws excluding Chinese immigrants from owning businesses, sudden reversals on immigration quotas, and (un)official racist policies driving Chinese-Americans from their homes.  I remember learning about things like the Chinese Exclusion Act in my history classes, but I wish we had talked more about what this actually meant for Chinese communities…and the lasting legacy of racist policies.

In addition to the social messages, the characters feel real.  Lalu struggles to find a place in the States without losing her identity.  Mistreated by many people, she is bruised but determined, and takes shit from no one.  Charlie is also a layered character who is, in some ways, a product of his time.  While he doesn’t pressure Lalu to sleep with him, he does still have expectations about Lalu magically reciprocating his feelings.  And he does benefit from the racist law banning Hong King from owning a business.

I didn’t include it in my review as I am trying to keep my word count under control, but the relationship between Aunt Zelda and Lalu is quite sweet.  I’m always here for female solidarity, and their relationship also serves to differentiate between types of sex work.  Lalu’s situation is terrible as she doesn’t choose to be a sex worker; Aunt Zelda, however, seems to embrace her role and the freedom it allows her.  This is a nuanced distinction for any film to make, and I’m proud of one of my favorite genres for being ahead of the game on this.

I am pleased, period drama gods.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Lady J, or: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Soft laughter echoing across marble stairs.  Gently twirling parasols.  Delicate lace sleeves.  More hats than you could wear in a lifetime.  It can only be period drama month on the Blog Collab.

The Film:

Lady J

The Premise:

A woman of the French nobility seeks revenge on the libertine who broke her heart.

The Ramble:

The Marquis des Arcis is a piece of work, let me tell you.  A libertine who claims to love all of his conquests, the Marquis has his sights set on widowed Madame de La Pommeraye.

Fully aware of his terrible reputation, Pommeraye resists his advances, proclaiming her belief in friendship only, not love.  However, the Marquis and his charm begin to take effect, and the two become lovers.

A man kisses the hand of a woman dressed in fashionable pink dress and hat.

Even from the French countryside, news travels fast, and Pommeraye becomes the subject of nasty gossip in Paris.  Unconcerned as their love is so pure, Pommeraye prances merrily along.

When the Marquis must travel for business, so our troubles begin.  As he travels more frequently, he becomes increasingly distant.  Unable to take it any longer, Pommeraye confronts the Marquis about the lack of love between them.  Heartbroken over their breakup, Pommeraye nevertheless remains friends with her ex…while also doing some scheming.  Of course there’s scheming.

A woman with a parasol touches the shoulder of a man while they walk in a forested area.

After hearing some scandalous gossip from her bestie, Pommeraye hatches an inspired plan.  The scandal involves a woman born out of wedlock who nevertheless makes a good match to a member of the nobility.  As it turns out, her fiancé is a next-level schemer, and arranges for a fake wedding.  When she takes him to court, this woman inevitably loses, and turns with her daughter to a den of vice (le gasp) where they earn a living through sex work.

Inspired to seek vengeance against the Marquis with these two women, Pommeraye sets them up in a flat of their own as long as they follow the path of righteousness.

After introducing the Marquis to her pious friend and lovely daughter, he becomes obsessed.  So consumed with his thoughts of Mademoiselle J, the Marquis begs Pommeraye to reunite them.  Pommeraye at last allows him to join them for dinner when he “happens to be in the neighborhood.”  During dinner, Pommeraye grills him on the questionable morality of libertines and prods him to speak in praise of living by the words of Christ.

A man and woman dressed elegantly talk to a woman and her teenage daughter, who are dressed somberly.

Hiring the equivalent of 19th century PIs, the Marquis tracks down Mademoiselle J and propositions her repeatedly.  He writes romantic letters, offering jewels, houses, monthly income, and significant amounts of his fortune.

Pommeraye, intercepting his letters, urges Madame J to reject all of these offers as they are not enough.  Finally, the Marquis realizes the only acceptable offer is one of marriage, which Mademoiselle J is reluctant to accept.  Conflicted about lying about her past and her feelings for the Marquis, Mademoiselle J eventually accepts as a way to provide for her mother.

A woman in an elaborate yellow dress reads a letter in an elegant room as servants look on.

Shortly after the wedding, Pommeraye takes Madame J and the newlyweds on a fun day trip…to the den of vice (dun dun dun).  How will the Marquis react when he learns the truth about Mademoiselle J’s past and Pommeraye’s present schemes?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I am always here for a period drama.  The scenery, the costumes, the melodrama, the passive-aggressive lines of dialogue–I love it so much.

Though the obvious comparison is probably Dangerous Liaisons, this is actually quite sweet for a revenge film. Pommeraye herself starts out as a somewhat sympathetic character, but her schemes ultimately have the power to hurt a lot of people and she gives zero fucks.

I appreciate that this is reasonably progressive concerning women’s sexuality, especially where period dramas are concerned.  The Marquis is of course a bit of a douche when it comes to Mademoiselle J’s past as a sex worker, but the story resists the idea that she is somehow unclean or immoral.  Meanwhile, Pommeraye’s schemes actually do, as promised, ensure that a man no longer acts as a libertine (though not necessarily in the way she intends).

There’s also quite a lot of farcical fun here.  The scene at dinner cracked me up with all of the uncomfortable squirming the Marquis endured.  The amount of times he unconvincingly just happens to bump into Madame J and her daughter is quite entertaining too.

Would my blog wife remain steadfast or plan an elaborate fake wedding just to get this one off her case?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Mary Shelley, or: If You Like Percy Bysshe Shelley and Getting Caught in the Rain

It’s 2019.  It’s almost the 2nd month of 2019.  But while it’s still month number one, we do what we want, we watch what we want.  And this week we take a trip 200ish years into the past with a brilliant writer and real-life heroine.

The Film:

Mary Shelley

The Premise:

An examination of the events in Mary Shelley’s life that led to the creation of her iconic Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

The Ramble:

Mary Shelley (née Godwin), like your average teen, likes to hang out around her mother’s grave and invent creepy ghost stories for her siblings.

Since the death of her famous mother, Mary’s father William Godwin, a philosopher in his own right, has remarried.  Her stepmother (aka Anna from Downton Abbey) despises Mary and her distracted, creative mind, and the two are frequently at odds.  After an especially contentious fight, Mary is unceremoniously sent off to live in Scotland with a radical philosopher and his family.

Two teen girls sit in the dark in front of a tree, a small lamp between them.

Though miserable, things are looking up when Mary befriends one of the daughters of the family, Arya Stark Isabel.  They bond over their interest in all things occult and the desire to summon the ghosts of their deceased mothers.  You know, teen stuff.  The two pass the time enjoyably enough until Percy Shelley arrives on the literal winds of change. Significant stares are exchanged.  Repartee is traded.

A young woman grins at a smiling man in front of a tree.

Unfortunately, a blossoming new romance grinds to a halt when Mary receives the news that her stepsister Claire is gravely ill.  Mary rushes to her side only to discover, rather than being at death’s door, Claire has been desperately bored.

Luckily, Percy is a massive fanboy when it comes to Mary’s parents, and it doesn’t take much convincing for her father to take him on as a protégé.  From then on, it’s secret notes, hanging out in graveyards, getting caught in the rain, and drinking sacramental wine.

However, it’s sort of a buzzkill when Percy’s wife and daughter arrive on the scene, bursting Mary’s bubble.  Having been raised with her radical parents’ ideas, Mary is all for free love and embracing an unconventional lifestyle.  Her father is decidedly not ok with this and cuts her off when she runs away with Percy, bringing Claire along for the ride.

Unsurprisingly, being young, poor, and in love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Percy can’t get anyone to publish his work, yet insists on throwing elaborate dinner parties for his sleazy friends.  Meanwhile, Mary is expecting and worried about her baby’s future.

A woman sits in bed, holding a baby. Next to them, a man holds the baby's hand and looks tenderly at the woman.

Predictably, the creditors come.  Forced to flee on a cold, rainy evening, Mary’s newborn baby is not long for this world.

Meanwhile, Claire has news of her own:  after meeting the infamous Lord Byron during a night out a the theater, she became immediately pregnant after he looked at her.  /Also she’s been having an affair with him for the past few months.  Interpreting a letter from Byron as an invitation to visit, Claire and the gang head off for a month-long binge and general drunkenness and debauchery.

A man and woman who are dressed elegantly stand close to each other in a crowded theater.

All of this is leading to that famous weekend that produced those Gothic masterpieces, Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre.  Throughout all of this, I should mention, Byron predictably acts like a bag of dicks.  Percy isn’t much better, though John is sweet if a doormat.

After drafting her most famous work, Mary struggles with finding a publisher.  Eventually, she is able to publish anonymously on the condition that Percy writes an introduction…which means everyone in the world will think he is the writer.

Frustrated and hurt, Mary’s relationship with Percy deteriorates and her career as a writer seems over before it’s begun.  We all know she will ultimately become one of the most important English writers, period…but how will she get there with the odds stacked against her?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I am always up for a period drama.  And–no surprise–Elle Fanning is brilliant as ever.  However, as a whole this film fell somewhat flat for me.  I get that a successful writer’s life does involve a lot of scenes that wouldn’t be exceptionally thrilling onscreen.  But Mary comes across as such a boring person at times; I wish we had gotten inside of her brain a bit more to explore her brilliance.

Most of the time, we are focused on Mary and Percy’s relationship angst.  And, admittedly, a lot of the Romantics were probably huge douchebags, but Percy doesn’t come across looking great here.  From what I remember, Percy was supportive of Mary’s writing and never tried to claim credit for her work (though people did assume Frankenstein was his work).

The film also makes the odd choice of quoting from Percy’s poetry A LOT.  I understand the choice to use Percy’s words as Mary finds her voice as a writer, but it really got under my skin.  Remember Bright Star, which featured so much beautiful Keats poetry because it was a film ABOUT Keats?  This film is ABOUT Mary Shelley, so her words should take priority over Percy’s…unlike, you know, that thing all of those 19th century dudes were taken to task for IN THIS FILM.

Would my darling blog wife skip romantically through the rain with this one or ditch it in the mud like it’s the heteropatriarchy?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Madame Bovary, or: Arsenic and Gold Plates

November is the month of love on the blog–specifically love for the Blog Collab and our partnership.  In line with age-old tradition, our theme for this month revolves around choosing films that remind us of each other.  This week is Christa’s pick, and I think I’ve done well for myself if period dramas are the films immediately associated with me.

The Film:

Madame Bovary (2014)

The Premise:

France.  Extramarital affairs.  Massive debts as a result of too many gold encased centerpieces.  You know the drill.

The Ramble:

If 150+ years isn’t long enough to catch up on the basic plot of this story, this film considerately drops a few hints right away that it doesn’t end super well for the titular Madame Bovary.  Guess what?  Being a middle class married woman in the 19th century French countryside isn’t usually the most fun in literature.

Short diversion:  though set in France, this adaptation feels English AF, and the accents are confusing.  We have pseudo-French, British, American, and a few I couldn’t identify super easily.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want to hear actors in a French story at least make an attempt to put on a terrible French accent.

Returning to our story–almost immediately after her education in what looks like the world’s most boring martial arts school (but is actually a French convent), Emma marries a youngish doctor and moves to a small town outside of Rouen.  Everyone is stoked about the good match she’s made and predicts she’ll enjoy a comfortable, quiet life with her husband.  A ha ha.  Ha.

A man and woman ride through the French countryside on a horse-drawn buggy.
They see me rollin’…

For whatever reason, Paul Giamatti has a small role in this as a pharmacist/unintentional wingman for Emma.  He introduces Emma to a young legal clerk, Leon, with the dubious honor of being the last romantic in France.  Though Emma is really into this guy, the most scandalous thing she’s willing to do is walk slowly through a golden field with him.  That seems to be the end of that (at least for now).

A man and woman walk through a field together.
Period drama requirements satisfied in this scene:  bonnets, sideburns, symbolically wild/flowy hair on men, walking in fields.

Bored with the countryside, Emma tries to convince her husband to move to a city with more excitement or at least some more dudes to scope out.  Sorry, Emma–not going to happen.  Her only consolation is buying expensive shit on credit so she’ll have a shiny new wardrobe and extravagant decor.

After some time, Emma meets a marquis at a really fancy fox hunting party (which also makes this story feel even more fucking English).  Though initially Emma only offers friendship to the Marquis, she becomes tired with the constant disappointment that is life and begins an affair with him.  Eventually, Emma plans to run away to Paris with the Marquis, but…that doesn’t work out very well for her.  She does get some apricots out of it, though.

A woman stands in front of a table filled with food, reading a letter.
Break-up note accompanied by food is…not the worst idea, actually.

Luckily, Leon shows up again around this time.  However, Emma has also amassed much more debt than her husband can ever pay off by this point.  Unless Emma can rustle up 10,000 francs, she will lose everything.  Guess who’s there for her in her hour of need?

Spoiler:  it rhymes with marsenic.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I do always love the scenery, costumes, and symbolism of a period drama.  The sweeping landscape shots are beautiful, though (again), there’s something about all of this that feels so English.

However, we’re sorely missing a glimpse into Emma’s inner workings.  We see her reacting to feelings of emptiness and boredom without understanding where these feelings come from or what drives her to spending money and conducting affairs.  She’s also described as intelligent yet overly romantic, but neither of these characteristics shines through.  In this adaptation, Emma is actually somewhat boring herself and honestly not the brightest.  As a result, there is very little redeeming about her character, and it’s difficult to be sad when she meets an unhappy end.

At a certain point, this film ends up feeling like it’s crossing off items on the period drama checklist:  furtive glances at church, melancholy walks in the countryside, forbidden meetings at night.  You can get all that and more from so many other period dramas, in addition to more fully developed characters and deeper significance (plus less confusing accents).

Would Christa plate this one in gold or send it away to walk alone in the woods?  Find out in her review here!