Saturday, November 7, 2009

REVIEW: Bright Star...


I think I’m secretly a woman.

As the cinephile that I am, I am a big fan of a few different genres. Science Fiction, Film Noir, and dark comedies are just a few different genres and styles of films that catch the eyes of this guy. However, one genre that you may or may not expect to hear come out of my mouth, or typed from these fingers when discussing favorite genres, is costume drama. That said, I still believe that it’s one of the most interesting genres, and it’s just one that hits me in the right spot. That little pit right somewhere in your gut, that when tapped, automatically gets your attention, and ultimately, your tears.

Bright Star is easily the best costume drama I have seen, since at least Pride and Prejudice, and is arguably the best film so far this year. I know it’s my favorite.

Following a secret love affair, Bright Star tells the tale of legendary Romantic poet, John Keats, as he aims to win the heart and affection of his ultimate muse, one Fanny Brawne. The outspoken student of fashion is at once smitten by Keats’ ways, and the unlikely pair, who started at odds, are drawn together by the illness and death of Keats’ brother. Touched by her efforts to help, he agrees to teach her poetry, and from there on, the relationship gains unstoppable momentum, as they are intensely and helplessly absorbed into each other’s lives. However, troubles come, and seemingly insurmountable odds stand in their way.

Arguably the biggest problem that film goers have with costume/period dramas are how stuffy and seemingly uninteresting the dialogue, characters, and stories can be. However, Bright Star could not be any more opposed to that sentiment. Not a whole lot happens during the film, as it’s basically the story of boy and girl meet, fall in love, quibble, and then the ultimate conclusion. It’s a breezy film about John Keats, and yet is all the more powerful and effective for that.

The film is light and airy, and fits the style and ideal of Keats and what the Romantic poets stood for so perfectly. Director Jane Campion, whose film The Piano is one of my favorites, paints a stunningly beautiful frame, one that is as dreamy and gorgeous as the words that Keats put to page. It’s an intimate look at a love that knows no boundaries, money included, and one that is so pure, that it makes the average romance film look like a porn in comparison. Sure, it’s a period film, but this film doesn’t rely solely on period staples like films like The Dutchess do.

The true star of this film however is the cast, particularly the two leads. Given a script full of poignant dialogue with some of the most beautiful and lyrical poems ever dreamt, Ben Wishaw and Abbie Cornish make this a romance that one can believe in. Wishaw has previously done a poet character, albeit a bit more cynical, in I’m Not There, and here, he pulls in one of the best lead performances of this year. Abbie Cornish is great here, and is a true treasure as the wide eyed, yet sarcastic Fanny. Another surprising turn from Paul Schneider, best known as the brother in Lars and The Real Girl, and you have one of the best ensemble casts this year, and one that sure hope gets some sort of recognition come Oscar time.

Most costume dramas get accused of being turgid and soulless self masturbatory production design manifestos, yet Bright Star seemingly falls as far from that stereotype as possible. Full of life, not only in the lead roles, the film absolutely jumps off of the screen. It’s an elegant film, with the poetic touch and dreamy style that made Keats the fantastic poet he was. It doesn’t bash the viewer in the face with production design, but instead, takes that design, which is easily the most elaborate and stunning this year, and simply make it secondary to this love story. As all romance films do, Star relies on the chemistry of the two lovers, and that ultimately may be the films biggest strength. The two do not fall for each other right away, but as they do, you begin to see the fire between the two, come on the faces of the respective actors, via a look, a smile, or a nod. Also, Campion lets the camera linger, and often times randomly pop up to show something as simple as a young girl walking in with a cat, and it just forces the viewer to dig deeper and deeper into this world that she has so beautifully crafted.

As a film, and as a biopic, I feel as though this is the blueprint for how to create one that truly works.

Star, instead of following the entire span of Keats’ life, it simply follows three years, the final three years of this poets life. It encapsulates Keats’ at his most prolific, most loving, most cold, most frail, and most tortured, which allows the viewer to simply dig into the subject, for that period of time. There is no need to show Keats’ when he is young, as that is not directly important to the viewer, in any meaningful way. It allows the film to live and breath on it’s own, without being lagged down by any back story. It’s almost like a superhero origin tale. One can only see so many of them before they begin to play as if they are all too similar. This one simply plants us in this time, and forces us to fill in any back story that we may or may not want. That choice is far to important, and one that I am thankful Campion gave us. If you want to know more, read up on him. If not, enjoy what may be one of the best films of ’09.

All in all, this is the opposite of a blockbuster, and opposite of a film that will work for everyone. This isn’t an explosion filled action fest, nor is it a melodrama heavy soap opera style romantic drama, what this film is however is a poetic look at three years, and one wonderful romance, that, instead of forcing you to tears, or scaring the shit out of you, simply asks you to think about love, life, and the art of words. It’s also leaves you, at least I hope it does, saying you were glad to see it.

I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days—three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.

BRIGHT STAR – 9/10

Go see something good!

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