Star Light, Star Bright

We've entered that part of the calendar when I'm hysterically trying to get all the important movies I've missed under my belt before the Oscars roll around. I was planning on meeting a friend to see The Descendants today, but an accident of schedule and geography dumped me at the movie theater a couple of hours early, so I caught a showing of The Iron Lady as well. Awards buzz is heavy for both of these movies in differing categories, and in both cases, I'm afraid to say that it's not entirely earned. If there's one thing that saves them (in one case more successfully than the other), it's that there are legitimately wonderful performances in both. Unfortunately, those performances can't and don't carry the film that contains them.

When it comes to The Iron Lady, not much needs to be said about Meryl Streep, because you know what everyone is going to say, and I'm no exception. She's wonderful. I think the most uncanny thing about her is how easily I can lose myself in her characters. When I'm watching Maggie Smith, I always enjoy her, but I never forget for a moment that I am watching Maggie Smith act. When it comes to Meryl Streep, however, the fact that she's perhaps the most acclaimed living actress quickly fades after the first few minutes, and I fully engage with the character, as if I'm seeing an actress for the first time. She truly is Julia Child or a horribly mean fashion editor or a judgmental nun or an amoral zombie. She brings her A-game to the role of Margaret Thatcher as well, and as always, I have no complaint with her portrayal.

That portrayal is about the only thing to like. The rest of the movie is wildly unfocused, swinging back in forth in time, never deciding if it wants to celebrate Thatcher for making bold, unpopular decisions or condemning her for being a heartless plutocrat. Movies like The Queen or the The King's Speech work so well because they're a specific snapshot of a towering historical figure's life. The Iron Lady bites off way more than it can chew, trying to cram Thatcher's rise to power, her economic policies, the Falkland Islands conflict, her issues dealing with sexism in office, her mental instability in her advanced age, and more besides into one story.

The Descendants, on the other hand, holds together much better. George Clooney takes a break from his usual charm-oozing characters to play a man who's losing his grip on all the relationships in his life, from personal to business. He discovers that his wife, comatose and dying, was cheating on him before the accident that put her in the hospital. This is while he's trying to deal with two rebellious daughters and a land deal that will displease someone no matter what direction he takes. Clooney does an admirable job, and the girls who play his daughters are outstanding.

Even though the movie does everything well, no one aspect ever leaps out as particularly noteworthy. The emotional parts are never wholly affecting, and the comedic parts never add more than a dash of levity. It was a perfectly good film, and one I'd recommend, but certainly nothing sets it apart as one of the year's best.

Both of these movies have something to offer, and both serve as a showcase for some stellar acting, but much like a gifted violinist, a great solo performance can't compensate for a disappointing orchestra.

The Iron Lady: C
The Descendants: B


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime