I am probably going to be whipped behind the woodshed for saying so, but I was seriously underwhelmed by this Best Picture nominee. I just don’t see what everyone is so worked up about. Yes, I am certain the novel is very touching, moving, deep, and filled with metaphor and allegory, but the film adaptation feels labored and restless. John Irving wrote the novel as well as the adaptation, and maybe that is the problem. It is hard to tell when you cannot show in a novel, and then hard to show what you have easily told in a film. It’s amazing books get adapted at all, frankly, especially introspective dramas like this one. He seems to waffle between obtaining a beautiful subtlety in weaving together his various takes of choices and rules, rarely known and broken by choice, and so on, but then he beats you over the head with it in the very next scene. It’s lovely to look upon, this kingdom of Maine in 1943. The instruments of medicine used throughout are alarmingly primitive – our parents went under knives like that, oh my god, how did they survive to produce me?
Nearly everyone in the film had smile-inducing performances, warmth and depth. Michael Caine is just as good as he always has been, but perhaps he has never been appreciated because he was always waxing Cockney. Tobey Maguire has always come off to me as reserved and kind of Wesley Crusheresque, like he doesn’t really want to be in the movie. As he is the lead in the film, it is kind of inexcusable for me to be emotionally disconnected to him, isn’t it? Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu were lovely, I’d like to see her more especially. Charlize Theron is a waxwork image of the beautiful perfect mid-century bombshell, fragile and objectified. It seems a terrible waste, as when she is given something to do she is quite good at it, but then Mighty Joe Editor comes along and you just see her in her panties.
The titular Rules, and the examination thereof, were actually the weakest part of the film. It was a leaden treatment of what the movie was doing perfectly well in portraying all along – and using that particular item as the title just drove all the focus away from the real important stuff that was going on. A pity. It may be a surprise to some that some discussion of abortion (as a practice, not as a character’s option) takes place that, to me, in my political arena, seemed very rational and also very giving to both sides of the opinion coin. I wondered if a certain situation had not been painted with extra vigor in order to appease the conservative half of the audience. It’s a touchy topic, but not the focus of the movie, just another string in the admittedly complex Maypole of choices and life decisions and rules choosing the truths you live with and what have you that make the story so satisfying. A shame the movie is not as satisfying as its ideas.
I had actually forgotten that the film was up for Best Picture when I went to see it – I knew I had to see it in order to comment in my Oscar Predictions for this year (coming soon!) but I could not for the life of me see how this would have garnered a Best Picture nomination after seeing it. It’s lovely, it’s pleasant, it’s better than most – but it’s little more than that. I don’t want to trash it, there is nothing *wrong* with it per se, it just didn’t stick with me and it wasn’t the Oscar cream fest I had been expecting. Everyone has been crowing about Michael Caine but he has always been this good, why hasn’t anyone noticed before? His Dr. Larch is layered, caring, flawed, altruistic, and grounded (mostly). Did he just have to speak like an American for people to notice?
I think people should see it, but I don’t think they should spend too much money on it. Save money on watching it and buy the book as a supplement.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 130
Director Lasse HallstrÃƒ¶m