Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Country Girl: Movie Review

Hollywood glamour-girl, Grace Kelly, astonished audiences in 1954 by tossing the tiara and Fifth Avenue finisse in this romantic drama directed by George Seaton. Bing Crosby is out of character as Frank Elgin, a has-been actor consumed by guilt over the death of his young son, Johnny. Frank's subsequent alcoholism and debility lead to a fanatical depedence on his wife, Georgie (Kelly), who is compelled to suppress her own grief to prevent her husband's collapse. When the brilliant, but sardonic director, Bernie Dodd (William Holden) gives Frank a second shot at stardom, a frigid first impression of Georgie leads him to believe that she is the cause of Frank's lack of confidence and weak-will. Suspicion turns to animosity when Frank, desperate to reestablish himself as the charasmatic leading man of his heyday, demoralizes Georgie with a deceitful image of her as a controlling, suicidal drunk. For the past few years, however, it is Frank who has laid claim to this persona and finds himself struggling to maintain a cheerful exterior as the mask of deception cracks under the strain of responsibility. Now Georgie, in addition to nursing an alcoholic husband, must contend with an acerbic, and misogynistic, director in a battle of wits and will that will guide all three on the road to redemption, rediscovery, and love.

The Country Girl earned director George Seaton two nominations at the 1954 Academy Awards: Best Director (which he lost to Elia Kazan for On the Water Front) and Best Writing/Screenplay, which he reprised after a win in 1947 for Miracle on 34th Street. Bing Crosby earned a nomination for Best Actor, which would have paid homage to a phenomenal range after his 1944 win for the role of Father Chuck O'Malley in Going My Way. Crosby's loss to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront amassed no surprise from critics, who stirred a tempest when Grace Kelly won the Oscar for Best Actress over Judy Garland's performance in A Star is Born. (The irony was that that film featured Garland's character winning the Oscar and having her spotlight ruined in a Taylor-Swift/Kanye-West moment by a drunken James Mason). Comedian Groucho Marx went so far as to deride Kelly's win as a "robbery." Had Marx focused his criticism on the film as a whole, he would have been correct, as The Country Girl fell into obscurity while A Star is Born ascended into the ranks of the top 10 musicals of all time. That Kelly's performance should be minimized to a side-show spoof, however, is garbage straight from the horse's rear.

In 1954, the most productive year in Kelly's career, she starred in three other films in which she played (more or less) the society dame with which she is most identified. The Country Girl was almost flanked on both sides by these roles -- one in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, in which she played a Club 21 regular, and another in The Bridges at Toko-Ri, where she starred beside William Holden as the belle of Washington society. The sensational portrayal of the pragmatic and steadfast Georgie Elgin, however, presented Kelly as a deglamourized, staid, and forward housewife, a far cry from the shy Quaker in Gary Cooper's High Noon. The film's title pits Kelly in the lead role, a fact that viewer's may find difficult to comprehend, since at a glance, it is Crosby who dominates the screen with fits of grief and drunken outbursts. Just as Louise Fletcher did not have to endure a lobotomy to equal Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, however, Kelly does not have to flood the screen with tearful, passionate speeches about independence and self-worth. Instead, what Crosby achieves in several scenes throughout the film, Kelly executes in two volatile scenes in which she treats William Holden to a tongue-lashing with phrases like, " 'May I smoke?' What is that supposed to be? Homage to a lady?" Prior to The Country Girl, Kelly's trademark regality was merely a superficial aspect of a Hollywood leading lady. As Georgie Elgin, she procured a landmark victory as an actress of monumental poise, passion, and inner vitality. With the unforgettable lines, "All I want is my own name and a modest job to buy sugar for my coffee. You can't believe that, can you? You can't believe that a woman is crazy, out of her mind to live alone?" Ultimately, Kelly brands an image in the viewer's mind of a good woman who perseveres in a struggle to maintain her identity and triumphs in a world dominated by prejudice and anti-feminism.

Bing Crosby was one of few singers to host a successful career in the film and music industries. Films like Going My Way and White Christmas featured Crosby relying heavily on his musical talent rather than separating the two for a production entirely free of musical numbers. Unlike those two films, The Country Girl did little to enhance Crosby's baritone, and instead provided a role in which his acting skills would need to take precedence. As the crestfallen, insecure nebbish, Frank Elgin, Crosby captures the sympathy of viewers for a drowning man whose final chance at atonement finds him lost on the road to self-destruction. To guide him away from this route with the assurance he needs to prevail is William Holden as the austere, inflexible Bernie Dodd. With very little background divulged (the exception being a failed marriage that resulted in a mistrust of women), Dodd is the most enigmatic of the film's trio who undergoes the least dramatic change by the film's end. The character, though not one of Holden's strongest, showcased his talent as one of Hollywood's most versatile actors. In 1953, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in Stalag 17, in which he played the egotistical and cynical POW, Sefton. Just prior to filming The Country Girl, Holden starred beside Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina as the whimsical playboy, David Larrabee. The smooth transition into Bernie Dodd is nothing short of genuine talent from one of Hollywood's greatest leading men.

The main idea of The Country Girl is summed up by Georgie Elgin. "I'm just a girl from the country. The theatre and the people in it have always been a complete mystery to me. They still are." Although a virtually obscure piece in today's society, the film left a legacy as the last to garner a nod for Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby at the Academy Awards. That is evidence enough of the power and magnetism of this small piece, which is profound in the analysis of human nature in the affairs of tragedy, friendship, and love.

The Country Girl

Hearts in Atlantis: Movie Review

"Sometimes when you're young, you have moments of such happiness, you think you're living in someplace magical, like Atlantis must have been? then we grow up and our hearts break into two." So says Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), the affable, but curious new tenant in the duplex where eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin) lives with his border-line neglectful mother, Liz (Hope Davis). Together, they make an unlikely pair: a bright-eyed young boy with a fear of cooties and a middle-aged gentleman with a love for literature and root beer. As time passes, however, Bobby develops a deep fondness for Ted, whom he sees as a replacement for the father who died six years ago. In the course of their friendship, Ted divulges to Bobby that he is being pursued by individuals known as The Low Men, "who move in packs like animals closing in for the kill - and cast long shadows." Although he is doubtful about this odd revelation, Bobby cannot deny that there is something extraordinary about his new friend and is hardly surprised when he discovers that Ted's bizarre intuition is due to his pyschic ability to see into other's minds. Ted's powers eventually rub off on Bobby, who comes to believe in the Low Men and is determined to keep them away from Ted, whom they seek to participate in a clandestine political operation.

Hearts in Atlantis is but one in a very long line of successful adaptations based on the novels of Stephen King, the commander in chief of the horror genre. Other adaptations include the Oscar-nominated films The Green Mile (starring Tom Hanks and David Morse) and The Shawshank Redemption (which lost to Forrest Gump for Best Picture at the 1994 Academy Awards). Hearts in Atlantis received minimal praise on the awards circuit, despite a subtle but brilliant performance by Anthony Hopkins whose character, Ted Braudigan, would say that The Silence of the Lambs was the film "by which all others in (his) life will be judged . . . and found wanting." Anton Yelchin's whimsical portrayal of Bobby Garfield is commendable, but not exceptional, and set the stage for thirteen years worth of other commendable performances in films such as Alpha Dog and Terminator Salvation. Mika Boorem's performance as Bobby's best friend and love interest, Carol Gerber, and David Morse's performance as the adult Bobby are all that's praiseworthy from an otherwise intrusive supporting cast. Overall, an absorbing coming-of-age film that Hopkins and King fans should see for the sake of viewing the talent of two extraordinary men on the film and literary circuits.

Hearts in Atlantis