Hours, TheReviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 03/12/03 23:28:46
It's Oscar season and all the big hitters are rolling out. There's epics and biographies, twisted comedies and ironic takes on life all jostling for position to get on the podium on the big night, and 'The Hours' is one of the favourites to scoop a few of the little gold skinheads. It's serious, it's based on an award winning book, it's got actors portraying people dying of AIDS, of haunted writers slowly going mad and lots of ISSUES. It's clear that Oscar is going to love it. But the only thing that will love 'The Hours' more then the Oscars is 'The Hours' itself. A shame that it's a repugnant, self-indulgent, emotionally hollow, intellectually false mess.Virginia Woolf (a beaky nosed and mad eyed Nicole Kidman) is undertaking the writing of 'Mrs Dalloway'. It's a frustating process however, worrying her devoted husband Lawrence (Stephen Dillane) and sister (Miranda Richardson) greatly with her mental state of mind. Unsurprising as she will eventually commit suicide.
In 50's America, housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is preparing to celebrate her husbands (John C Reilly) birthday, while reading 'Mrs Dalloway'.
And in present day New York, book editor Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) is throwing a celebratory party for poet and ex-lover Richard (Ed Harris) who has won a celebrated prize for his latest work. He's also dying of AIDS and understandably rather bitter and sceptical about winning this prize now.
Director, Stephen Daldry then attempts to intertwine the lives of these three women all linked through 'Mrs Dalloway'. One writing it, one reading it one seemingly living it.
It's a novel concept and gets off to a startling beginning as we see Woolf wading into a river loading herself down with rocks and drowning. Unfortunately this is one of the very few moments that capture the attention. The majority of the running time will be spent studying your fingernails, counting the number of people in the theatre with you and trying to calculate how may days are left until 'Return of the King' is released.
'The Hours'? Try the years. Daldry mistakes slow, solemn and pompous for high-brow, serious and stylish. The characters barely speak past a murmur and you can practically see the film crawl by, frame by frame.
But it would be an easy and childish to dismiss 'The Hours' as 'slow' or because 'nothing happens'. A hell of a lot happens, but Daldry and some of the actors haven't the faintest on how to make you invest one iota of feeling into their predicament.
Kidman tries her hardest and manages to be much more than just a glamorous actress going ugly, but as her role is barely more than an extended cameo it's hard to sympathise fully.
Ditto Moore. A great actress, she gives a decent turn but again hasn't nearly enough time to invest the film with emotional weight and has to make do with plaintive stares and wobbly upper lips. Her performance in 'Far From Heaven' is how it should have been done. Both suffer from a lack of backstory, Daldry's dull as ditchwater direction, and a patronising screenplay that never opens up to let the audience investigate. It's all tell and no show.
Woolf is going mad. How do we know? Because the script insists on TELLING us that several times. Apart from one time where she drifts off into a world of her own, there's no attempt to let the audience realise that in their own term. For all the subtlety here, she may as well be on her time of the month. Instead she resorts to mooching around her country estate, puffing on roll-ups to suggest a tortured artist. The only time we ever see anything approaching a real emotion is a train station argument between her and Lawrence. More time on this relationship would have made for a much more interesting twist.
Again the same happens with Moore. 'The Hours' is sooo much more important and intellectual than humble viewers like you me and you that it simply has to clarify everything in the simplest terms for us to understand. So again we have a depressed female character contemplating suicide. We know this because it's jabbed in our eyes until we're contemplating it ourselves. No attempt at a fully fleshed character here, we just a cardboard cut-out of female depression because we're just too thick to figure out these issues for ourselves.
So far, so average verging on poor. Both Kidman and Moore are good, while Dillane quietly steals the film with the only performance that seems real and not stagey. What really drags this down though, is the amount of time wasted on Streep and Harris. Streep is insufferably pretentious and annoying as a middle-class, wannabe bohemian, who damn it just can't connect with life. How do we see this depression taking hold in her life? She can't throw a party without crying. Seriously. It sounds like a pitch for the next J-Lo comedy. Her life is so fucked up she can't eveb begin to think of the lobster vol-au-veunts without the waterfalls starting. Well pardon me for seeming callous, but boo frickin' hoo. Break the hankies out.
It's this pretentious wallowing in self-important, self-misery that makes 'The Hours' such a hateful experience. If I had to look at a tear stained Streep whining about she isn't happy in her plush apartment, and how nothing is right anymore, I was going to strangle her with her own hippie beads.
Harris doesn't fare much better. One of the greatest actors around, his poet is a cynical, bitter cliche, selfish and unloveable (like every other character) to the last. A poor performance that seems much more important than it is. Jeff Daniels then pops up as his ex-lover and describes how he simply had to escape the horror of his own life by...hopping on the nearest trip to Europe. Woah, what a trauma. And here was me thinking turning to Jack Daniels at times of stress was tough enough. There's so many pseudo-intellectual observations and confessions here, I felt like dishing out a verse of the rosary to everyone.
And Daldry's direction here is at it's most heavy-handed. Apart from Harris calling Streep 'Mrs Dalloway' at every single freaking opportunity (yes alright we get it! She is like Mrs Dalloway and that's how she links in! Oh you're so clever), how else does he link the three women? They all break eggs into a bowl at some point. Let's call in 'The X-Files' here folks, the resemblance is uncanny.As you may have guessed, I loathed 'The Hours'. It's a bohemians wetdream of what constitutes life and misery, but has no idea and just parades it's own self-importance and pretensions of grandeur and intelligence. Yes, Kidman, Moore and Dillane deserve some praise, but they're ultimately beaten down and drowned out by Daldry's clumsy direction, an insulting script, Philip Glass' meandering and annoying music, Harris' over-the-top hullabaloo and Streeps' endless sqwuaking. Oscars ahoy!
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