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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.53%
Worth A Look: 36.84%
Average: 10.53%
Pretty Bad42.11%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Golden Bowl, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"No, it's not about a magical bong."
4 stars

Ah, the Merchant/Ivory flicks; these are the films that always seem so damn dull while you’re looking over the DVD case, yet less than 15 minutes into most of these productions – you’re completely enraptured in the lush, classical-style moviemaking that the celebrated trio of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have become known for.

Anyone familiar with ‘art fare’ like Howard’s End, A Room with a View, and The Remains of the Day is well aware of the meticulously photographed and altogether literate renditions offered up by these talented filmmakers, and if The Golden Bowl doesn’t exactly measure up to the excellence of those three films (few similar films do), it’s at least good enough to please fans of the genre.

Based on the novel by Henry James, The Golden Bowl tells the tale of dual marital infidelities, circa 1900 England. It’s a dry semi-comedy of errors, in that a modern tale would simply be able to spit out “She’s cheating on you!” in the first five minutes. But this is the stuffy upper crust of turn-of-the-century England, and such scandalous improprieties were consistently brushed under the rug in an effort to maintain one’s ever-important social reputation. As if a simple affair weren’t damning enough, the lovers on display here are actually stepmother and stepson! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Uma Thurman (offering easily one of her finest performances ever) plays Charlotte. She’s in love with an Italian prince named Amerigo (Jeremy Northam). Amerigo is all set to marry Maggie, who is best friend to Charlotte and the daughter of “America’s first billionaire”. Still with me?

Amerigo and Maggie’s romance has been pre-arranged by local busybody Fanny Assingham (Anjelica Huston, deliciously droll here), but now Fanny needs to find a suitor for the recently heartbroken Charlotte. To this end, Fanny recommends Maggie’s filthy rich father, Adam Verver (Nick Nolte, miscast but always fun to watch), and that relationship also leads to a wedding! So Charlotte is now Maggie’s stepmother (though her equal in age) plus she’s keeping secret the torch she holds for Amerigo, her former lover – and current stepson-in-law.

It’s less confusing in the movie. Trust me. While some viewers may grow exasperated over the “Did she? Did they? Didn’t she? Who didn’t she do?” coyness of the mannered screenplay, I found it simply a joy to sit back and watch this quartet of licentious lovers knock each other about with their subtle innuendoes and hidden messages. My favorite comes when Nolte, sure his young wife has been unfaithful, divulges in very business-like fashion “I never make a move until I’m sure”. He’s discussing his massive art collection at the time, but if the subtext were any clearer, the film would need a flashing red subtitle that screams “He KNOWS!!” Fans of that sort of metaphor will certainly appreciate the titular artifact. The allegedly flawless crystal bowl is meant to symbolize the strength of a loyal marriage union, but when Maggie (the only real ‘innocent’ in the whole story) easily spots a miniscule crack in the bowl, it’s not tough to figure out what it’s all supposed to mean.

Though The Golden Bowl intermittently drags in only the way that staunch period pieces can drag, there are more than enough quality aspects to make this an entertaining time. The cast is uniformly (and not surprisingly) fantastic, with Northam offering a shockingly authentic Italian accent, Huston at the top of her ‘arched eyebrow over bemused countenance’ game, James Fox (as her ever-understanding husband) offers a few bits of rascally charm, Nick Nolte is, well, he’s Nolte-esque and therefore always watchable, and Beckinsale overcomes a few rough moments to offer a truly sympathetic performance.

The shocker of the movie comes in the form of the lovely Uma Thurman. Perhaps unjustly labeled as a b-level actress, her turn here is nothing short of superb. Over the years, the ex-model has steadily found work, but the last few years have seen her skills grow by leaps and bounds. (Compare her work in the Richard Gere flick Final Analysis to her work here or in Kill Bill and you’ll see the impressive strides.) She may never be a Meryl Streep, but you gotta give SOME credit when one of those ex-model/actress combinations actually turns out to have some real talent.

Obviously, this movie will appeal most to those who enjoy old-fashioned period dramas, ones rife with gorgeous production design, stunning costumes and photography, and well-mannered characters behaving in a literate and civil fashion. Heck, nobody loves loud action flicks and fart jokes more than I, but it’s quite satisfying to punctuate those brain candies with some classy and clever cinematic roughage.

"The Golden Bowl" may not be the most exciting movie you’ll ever see, but those who pay attention should find themselves pleasantly rewarded.

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originally posted: 05/01/04 21:44:45
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User Comments

3/29/10 Bubina Thurman terribly unconvincing. Dialogue sounded phony. Could barely watch it. 2 stars
7/08/06 NS good 4 stars
6/21/02 hum should be something special but casting is wrong and so much feels forced 3 stars
12/27/01 Belinda Way too long and all the wrong cast. 2 stars
9/25/01 masin wolliams a slow yet very complex story that is very moving. classic moviemaking. 5 stars
6/15/01 doug fuckin sweeett 5 stars
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  27-Apr-2001 (R)


  26-Dec-2001 (M)

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