I have to say it – I did NOT have great expectations of this film. “I’m not going to review this movie the way I saw it – I’m going to review it the way I remembered it.” I purposefully waited 4 days before setting thumb to trackpad so that I would have some perspective. Memory versus direct translation from the senses is a principle of art that was considered a bad thing by my high school art teacher. In the case of this film, I would have to agree with her assessment. The thing I was most looking forward to in seeing Great Expectations was to NOT have to sit through the preview ever again. This movie more closely resembles its source material than say, Lawnmower Man, but not by a lot.
The kid they cast as young Finn (I missed his name!) is a total ringer for Ethan Hawke, but the young Estelle is far too lush a beauty to grow up into the alarmingly bony Gwynneth Paltrow, who seems dressed to emphasize the unhuggable points and angles of her body. Francesco Clemente provided the art credited to Finn in the story, and his interesting renderings of old and young Estelle merely emphasize the disparity between what Finn sees and how he remembers/feels it (and between the two ages of Estelle).
Screen adapter Mitch Glazer seems to have gotten rejected by a woman, gotten drunk, then gotten the Cliffs Notes to Dickens’ Great Expectations and been told to “sexy it up some.”
The central focus of the film is the non-romance between Hawke and Paltrow, losing all but a few shreds of the actual story, which focuses more heavily on the interesting and important characters of the convict and the crazy old maid aunt (Miss Havisham in the book). Anne Bancroft, in full Lon Chaney Jr. drag, is doing her best to wring the magic out of what is left of her scripted part – but she comes off as trying too hard, in the context of the film. I just know in my heart she read that novel again and again to get a grip on the old woman who was left at the altar so long ago, her bitterness and her rage, but poor Ms Bancroft is left singing Besame Mucho and impersonating a dried up ex-starlet. It is not her fault, I need to emphasize this, it is the script’s. The same fate falls on Robert DeNiro, whose character is castrated even further – and his is very important indeed. In the context of the movie, he might as well have Deus Ex Machina tattooed on his arm.
As it stands, the movie is the story of a fish-obsessed young artist who mysteriously adores this cold, bitchy girl all his life and gets rejected by her, with these older wackos thrown in for flavor. His uncle, Joe, played by Chris Cooper (Lone Star) is his moral center, and even though much of that story is also let untold, Cooper apparently is more used to small, crappily written roles than DeNiro and Bancroft, and he ends up being the only emotionally stirring person in the entire film. Go, Chris! His scene in the 3rd act actually made me care about something for a moment, and then he takes off. Go figure. I guess it’s not cool to like your central characters any more or care about them in any way.
Great Expectations is not as painfully stylish as the preview implied it would be, but the whole usage of green *everywhere* and on *everything* is distracting and annoying. According to some article, the actors didn’t even know what the deal was, it’s the director’s favorite color and that’s it. In this reporter’s humble and oh-so-biased opinion, if the green thing had been more effective if it had been restricted to the weird triad of pain formed by Hawke, Paltrow and Bancroft, but now it’s more like the pervasive blues of First Knight. And no one wants to be compared to First Knight.
The oh-so-hip nudie drawing session as symbol of intimacy and emotional breakthrough was better used in Titanic and As Good As It Gets – or maybe I just cared about the people. Despite Hawke’s urgency and strong reactions to Paltrow, I just could not care. If indeed Dickens had a grownup romance between Pip and whatsher name, it certainly wasn’t the centerpiece. It’s like trying to make a whole movie out of the section of Star Wars where Luke plays the hologram of Leia over and over again.
The loud, intrusive, and occasionally obnoxious score robbed scenes that could have worked of any hope of emotional connection. Romeo and Juliet was loud but the scenes were matching in intensity – not so here. The scene after the party (I’m talking about GE here), in its almost nonsexual hotness, was a million times more woof that their thrown-in, uninventive, unromantic, and unhorny actual sex scene. What the hell?
Hank Azaria is wonderful, so of course he sat around in his trailer kvetching with DeNiro and Bancroft about their characters’ lack of screen time.
This tepid distillation is best for Hawke fans who want to see paint splattered biceps or Paltrow fans with a skeletal fetish. The meat of the original work is sacrificed to the god of modern attention spans.
* this film was originally rated Dollar Movie, which fell between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO.
MPAA Rating R for language and some sexuality.
Release date 1/30/98
Time in minutes 111
Director Alfonso Cuaron
Studio 20th Century Fox