by Greg Muskewitz
Outside of my negative predisposition towards director Lasse Hallström, that doesn't mean that I cannot set it aside to enjoy a movie, as I did with The Cider House Rules, but again, the fulsome reaction and over-praise is evident and frustrating to hear it coming for something so elementary and then have other good movies like Dancer in the Dark, Deterrence, or Down to You (just to mention of few of the ds) that were miskened in the instability of critical voices.Chocolat is a simplistic story of an outsider and her daughter (Juliette Binoche, Victoire Thivisol) who immigrate into a deeply religious town and open up a chocolate store during their Lenten. The self-appointed town mediator (Alfred Molina) takes it upon himself to investigate, and if there are no problems, to make one. When the nomadic gypsies sail in and Binoche befriends him, Molina uses it as more fuel to burn the fire.
"A sappy, sweet confection."
The story is almost too simplistic, bulging to the edges with sappy goo, but somewhere in the middle there is enough sugar to mold it into a sweet confection. Metaphors aside, Chocolat doesn't do enough one way or another to make you care. I'm pretty much indifferent to it, but it makes more sense to give it a minimal recommendation for something so harmless, than bash it. There is little reason to love it or hate it. With all the positive critical reaction that Hallström gets from his movies, it is filling that ego of his mighty high. He already thinks anything he touches turns into something great, and that isn't the case. I think it was pretty apparent with The Cider House Rules that Miramax purchased those Oscar nominations, because the movie was not that good, and with the major dominance of Miramax over the past few years, there was a giant slot open. If Disney was smart (as preposterous an idea as it is), they should have been pushing The Straight Story, and it could have rightfully grabbed attention. But where Cider was an elementary lesson in abortion and pro-choice rights, this is just a further expansion of that with an addition anti-racism message. Not that the message is bad, but Hallström goes at it like a haughty professor trying to talk with a six-year-old; his manner is completely condescending and tries to disguise it in the sap of everything else.
Nearing the end of Chocolat, the story stops flowing so sweetly and it leaves a weak, bad aftertaste in your mouth. Binoche is looking old, especially considering that The Unbearable Lightness of Being was not that long ago. She fares decently, and another Unbearable alumna, Lena Olin, looks much better than Binoche, but doesn't act as well. The most obvious miscasting is of Molina, a character actor, and one who is not usually that good either, who cannot believably play this character for an ounce. He swims in the role, and floats upside-down like a corpse. The cinematography by Roger Pratt lags while its subject are people, and artificially intercuts crisp exterior shots to try and spruce it up. With Johnny Depp and Judi Dench.Final Verdict: B-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4716&reviewer=172
originally posted: 01/22/01 15:37:09