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Albatross: Quaint British Coming-of-Age Drama
This film has issues. In fact, its issues have issues. And its biggest issue is its complete inability to settle on a tone. One minute it’s a dark comedy, the next it’s a melodrama, the minute after, it’s a weird mash up of both. Alongside the abundance of clichés and the unsuccessful attempts at being quirky, it obscures its bright points - namely the beautiful acting from both Findlay and Jones.
Findlay plays Emelia, a down-on-her-luck teenage girl and aspiring writer whose only claim to greatness is her ancestor, Arthur Conan Doyle - author of Sherlock Holmes. She takes a job working as a cleaner at a boarding house run by a one-hit-wonder author named Jonathan (Koch) and his family. While working at the house, she befriends Jonathan’s daughter Beth (Jones), whose bookish, introverted demeanour stands at contrast with Emelia’s more outgoing, worldly manner. Jonathan offers to give Emelia writing lessons and before you know it, the two are sneaking around the house shagging, putting Jonathan’s relationship with his family and Emelia’s friendship with Beth at risk.
The film, which focuses on Emelia, examines three sides of her life; her relationship with Jonathan, her friendship with Beth and her life with her grandparents who are her last surviving family members - one of whom is dying. The former is highly clichéd and the latter is melodramatic at best, however, the film comes to life whenever Findlay and Jones share a scene. Their friendship, which is based on awe, pity and loneliness, feels real and will strike a chord with pretty much any girl. Beth is intimidated by Emelia’s sophistication and maturity while Emelia envies Beth’s smarts and the opportunities afforded to her by her family. In contrast, Jonathan’s premier motivation in life is his midlife crisis, and he appears to be a thoroughly reprehensible father, husband and employer. To him, Emelia is just another way to distract himself from his mediocrity.
The clichés that the film deals in are unforgiveable, especially the grandfather who seems to have swallowed one of those inspirational quotes books. Not to mention the film’s storyline is reminiscent of those cheesy teen soap operas, whether we’re talking about Jonathan’s family’s dynamics or Beth’s ‘corruption’ at the hands of the more experienced Emelia.
While quite beautiful due to its seaside location, the film wobbles all over the place and is pretty trite. However, it has two highly compelling stars in Findlay and Jones; Albatross is a pretty good film whenever they’re on screen.
This film was doomed to fail from the start. It takes an icon, known for both her sex appeal and her wish to be viewed as something more than that, and tells her story from the point of view of a man who’s in thrall of the screen siren side of her. When the protagonist sees Marilyn in this light, it becomes almost impossible for the viewer to perceive her in any other way, no matter how many Marilyn-the-person as opposed to Marilyn-the-star scenes the film may have. The film falls into the same trap as the general public, even when it takes special care to avoid doing so. And while this doesn’t make the film a complete failure, it does severely impact it and give it a sense of futility.
Colin Clark (Redmayne), a lowly assistant director on the set of The Prince & the Showgirl, grows close to Marilyn Monroe (Williams), the film’s female star. He quickly gains her trust and with it, a front row seat to her handler-approved, pill-popping loneliness and crippling confidence issues. Despite her status as a married woman and a myriad of warnings against doing so, he falls in love with her.
Marilyn occupies a very strange place in the public consciousness;
everybody’s heard of her and seen the picture of her standing over an air vent
with her dress billowing about, yet not many people have seen her films, let
alone know anything about her considerable comedic talent. Still, as an icon,
she’s ubiquitous and it’s mainly because of this that Williams’ portrayal of
her hews closer to mimicry.
Williams is a fantastic actress and there are some scenes in which the resemblance between the two is uncanny, both in looks and mannerisms, yet Monroe is too big a part of pop culture for such a straightforward take on her life. An approach such as the one used in the Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There, may have been more effective. Six different actors, of varying ages, genders and races, were chosen to portray different aspects of the legend. Such a radical approach makes it easier to let go of the image ingrained in your mind and leaves you more open to a different idea of the film’s subject.
There’s also the fact that Colin is the film’s narrator and so, by
default, we’re not getting to know the ‘real’ Marilyn; we’re seeing his
perception of the ‘real’ Marilyn. The film is apparently based on a true story,
which is rather hard to believe when Colin is everything that Marilyn is said
to have hated. In the film, she rails against people who only see her as the
sum total of her sex appeal yet Colin seems star struck, bordering on servile.
He seems completely spineless and Redmayne doesn’t do much with him to make him
The film doesn’t get deep enough into Marilyn’s issues to explain why she would tote him around everywhere when she has a couple of cronies at her beck and call. The main explanation we get is something along the lines of a sweet girl caving under the excess of Hollywood and the pressure of fame which could have been about anyone from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan. It’s shallow and doesn’t say anything that Monroe’s most casual fan didn’t already know.
On the plus side, the film is beautiful, as all period films are. It’s soft, warm, richly coloured and showcases some gorgeous costumes and make up. The film-inside-a-film structure allows for greater diversity in the costumes and setting adding to the amount of pretty.
The characters in My Week with Marilyn frequently marvel over Marilyn’s innate talent and natural gift. We marvel along with them but more in blind agreement than as a result of any real conviction.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.