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Why don't you whine about it some more?

Why don't you whine about it some more?

Period romances have an inherent edge in the quest to be compelling, I think.  Just seems it is a lot easier to find obstacles to love in the class and gender boundaries of the 19th century than today.  Girl has money, guy doesn’t, girl’s family won’t let them marry.  See, just takes five seconds to set up the story.

Of course, that simplicity is a double-edged sword.  While it can take just a scene to set up a plausible and engaging romantic entanglement, that leaves the whole rest of the movie to figure out ways to make that romance interesting.  Bright Star, unfortunately, isn’t up to the task.

Even if you don’t know anything about John Keats’s life, the film isn’t really particularly surprising.  Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne, a somewhat educated young woman of some means who is a bit proud of her sewing career.  As soon as Keats (Ben Whishaw), a young poet of little renown and even less money enters her life, it is clear (by all the usual ways) they’ll be an item.  The problem is that the film never really advances much beyond that stage.

The movie in a nutshell: Fanny is whiny and Keats is wimpy.  Other people claim the film has subtle, delicate layers.  But frankly, I’m didn’t see that at all.  There isn’t really much to their story, or much reason to get invested in the characters.  Their courtship was vague and detached.  I never saw a moment where Fanny falls in love or even a reason why she does.  And Keats seems to mostly ignore her.  There is very little romantic bickering.  And the scene where they do get together feels accidental.  It is kinda sorta a forbidden romance, but only in the sense that Fanny and Keats exert the least possible effort to try to get together.  I half expected any of the secondary character to slap either Keats or Fanny and excoriate them for their inaction.  Basically, in my mind, the story held very little interest as a romance, and there wasn’t really anything else there besides the romance.

Other than the comic relief, which was far and away the best part of the film.  There were several legitimately funny moments in the film, and increasingly they became focal points.  Certainly a large part of that is due to Paul Schneider, but I’d also spread the love around to the rest of the cast and writer/director Jane Campion.  Schneider plays the portly Charles Armitage Brown who has what kids these days call a bromance going with Keats.  A fellow poet, Brown is wholly devoted to his and Keats’ work, well, except for partaking in some sensual pleasures, and is (rightly, in my mind) skeptical of Fanny.  Obnoxious and overbearing, Brown is clearly the highlight of the film.

Bright Star has been bandied about in talks of all the major Oscar categories, save supporting actress.  Frankly, I think it’d be a mistake for the film to receive any nominations.  I’ve covered why I think the film is boring and how I was put off by Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw.  I don’t like to speak about direction, but I will say that I found the cuts between scenes to be highly distracting, so I guess I have to blame Campion for that.  I wouldn’t really be upset if Schneider picked up a supporting actor not.  He did a lot with a relatively slight role; had he been given a more substantial character, I’d be much more confident in handing him a nomination.

October 2009
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