Making a novel into a book is about understanding who the perception of the film is based towards. “The Goldfinch” is very clear about this and the hyperfocus of a boy who goes through a tragedy. The story is told with aplomb in many ways. The movie plods along with the essence of a late 70s movie but at times seems to forget what it is serving and, at others, seems laser focused. Director John Crowley, who also directed the rich “Brooklyn” which starred Domnhall Gleeson and Soarise Ronan, does an apt job here with reservations.
“Brooklyn”, like “The Goldfinch” does no feel the need to move to satisfy people’s current tastes. The movie is not so much a thriller or a mystery which some of the trailers might claim it to be. It is a basic character story…maybe one that would have been better served by a limited television series. But movies are meant to be seen in many ways on the big screen since certain actors can shine in ways that are different in other mediums.
This film is truly that of Oakes Fegley who plays the young Theo (played by Angel Elgort in the later scenes). Fegley conveys a sense of dread and lost childhood. His possession of a certain artifact after a tragedy is what connects the movie. While the grief and emotional pull of his acting is not overwhelming, it is palpable especially when he is inside the house of Nicole Kidman or hanging out with his Russian school friend on the edge of society in Las Vegas.
Nicole Kidman takes a small role as his caregiver and surrogate mother at two points in his life. Even though her character doesn’t have a whole ton to do, Kidman is undeniably effective as the mother who is in control and yet not, compassionate and yet poised, happy and yet sad. It reminds me in certain ways of Kidman in “The Hours” or Julianne Moore in “Far From Heaven” though those are still better performances. But she is understated here.
The true waste of the film since she has a role that could been played by anyone is that of Sarah Paulson. As an audience member it is undeniable to know what she is capable of. Maybe she wanted to work with the director but her talent is just barely touched in this as the Las Vegas girlfriend of Theo’s dad (overplayed a bit by Luke Wilson).
The only one who seems to get a more fully formed structure is Geoffrey Wright as a antiques dealer who suffers a loss but also offers an unfettered kindness to the victims. Geoffrey hasn’t had a chance to play such soul in a long while. You can see the emotional hurt pouring through him.
Ansel Elgort as the older Theo takes on a quieter role than he is know for. The acting again is solid but not transcendent and while the movie undeniably has to move to its end with a certain determination, its resolution is simply satisfactory yet still fulfilling. The music adds just the right amount of melodrama without overstating and Robert Richardson’s cinematography is understated and yet luscious at the same time. John Crowley as with “Brooklyn” shows that he is an apt director but is not catering to anybody’s notion of pace. While that may make the movie slow, it does not make it any less of a well made movie. It is just not as greater as maybe it wants to be. It comes off as a effective adaptation of a book, one that is very cognizant of not losing its identity along the way.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of the progression of a life is an individual journey for each person. But the adventure needs to have a voice. And one that evolves within that structure. With “Bittersweet Brooklyn” [Thelma Adams/Lake Union Publishing/352pgs], the author has created a slice in time that is both nostalgic and heartbreaking, modern but yet old fashioned, tragic and yet oddly hopeful in its protagonist. Thelma grows up in Jewish family where she was the daughter that was a miracle but ultimately became a reminder of pain. She never knew her father who died before she was born. As a result her older sister takes control of the family to protect her mother but loathes her sister as if she is the cause of all their problems. The family dynamics especially set against the aspect of the late 1910s where the aspect of war swirls with the industrial revolution. Add the elements of Prohibition and the gangster era in NY with the focus here more on Williamsburg and what the reader gets is a dynamic vista view. That backdrop most of the time doesn’t intrude on Thelma’s world but its feeling is imprinted vividly. Thelma’s psychological perceptions are simple but so rich in many ways especially in her interaction with her brothers Abie and Louis. But the feeling is so much more. Like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, the world feels lived in and as Thelma grows older and through them, one gets a sense of her travails. The different elements of perception are elements that are both internal and external but definitively reflects a time and a thought pattern while also questioning the inherent nature of behavior, even her own. Her life is not wrapped up in a distinct bow but the way she interacts with its from the interstate on with an Italian family and the eventual rebuke of a romance because her family is “not right” to her whirlwind marriage that was doomed from the start but revels in the love it once had. Even in the ending structure, the beauty is in the lyricism of the life lived. Without giving it away, it has that classic element while being smart, romantic, inherently intelligent, ruthless and blindingly human. It is a gem.
By Tim Wassberg