Hey Moriarty! I just got out of a screening of THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL in NYC. I got an advance screening pass a few days ago and invited my friend (who is a HUGE fan of the novel) to come check it out with me. I hadn't heard much about the movie was was all too happy to see it in advance (for free, no less!) So, I found myself ready to be bathed in the beauty of Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson for two hours. Let me be clear: I have never read nor bear any allegiance to the works of Philippa Gregory. I am aware that her novels have a devoted following; that her jacket covers bear tasteful, lovely images of ladies in waiting upon them; and that one of these novels is the basis for Justin Chadwick's debut feature The Other Boleyn Girl, which was screened in advance on October 8, 2007 to a crowd of excited (Re: female) fans and myself. The film was described as a work in progress, stressing heavily that some colors would be overly saturated and might (for example) turn Natalie Portman's face "a sickly yellow". Thankfully, even the most suffocating of yellows cannot undo the radiance of Ms. Portman who is, by far, the best part of this trashy, flawed yet entrancing spectacle. As Anne, the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, Portman creates a young woman at once starved for affection yet fierce enough to grapple for it. Her Anne is out of her own control: a reckless and feral young lady in the film's opening salvo (involving a hunt gone awry, curiously left on the cutting room floor) and a conniving yet vulnerable Queen during the madcap final third. By then, the Boleyn's have driven to the very depths of Victorian despicability. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The Other Boleyn Girl is the story of Sir Thomas Boleyn's family, particularly that of his three children, Anne (Ms. Portman), Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and George (Jim Sturgess). The family lives a quiet life in the country, courting marriages (the film open's on Mary's wedding day), quietly hoping to rise in the ranks of power. Thomas' brother [ ] (a venomously assured David Morrissey) gives them that chance. It seems as though Henry's wife, Catherine Of Avon, is unable to bear child and the good kings fears for the safety of the throne without a male heir. In other words, he needs a mistress. I'll steer clear of plot details from this point on, because the fact of the matter is this: what fun there is to be had in The Other Boleyn Girl comes from an increasingly ribald series of plot twists and watching several good actors navigate them with aplomb and skill. This is a soap-opera. It's a particularly well costumed, well acted soap opera, but it is a soap-opera nonetheless. It is a guilty pleasure whose production values are far higher than that of your average guilty pleasure and you will gleefully follow every turn the film takes (and there are MANY of them.) This really is an actor's showcase: the aforementioned Portman delivers some of her best work here: her Anne is put through the wringer, from drastic shifts of character to emotionally devastating reversals and each blow lands believably. Her journey through the film is fascinating to behold and Portman keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering what she will be capable of and whether we'll still care for her by film's close. Jim Sturgess is equally excellent; though he shares less stage time than Ms. Portman or Ms. Johansson, he leaves a strong impression; without giving too much away, his life goes from middling to worse towards the film's conclusion, and his collapse anchors the film's emotional core. When he is asked to do the unthinkable (and I mean UNTHINKABLE), his face tells a better story than the film ever does. Eric Bana does nice work as Henry VIII, tapping into a broader, more animalistic masculinity that we haven't seen from him before. Unfortunately, the role is underwritten and Bana is given little to do but be animalistic and look concerned. What moments of grace he finds are well-deserved and welcomed. If I haven't mentioned Ms. Johansson up until this point, its because she is the cast's weakest link. This is a role she should've been able to do more with: yes, the character of Mary is suppose to pale in comparison to her sister, but Ms. Johansson doesn't just pale--she disappears. The quiet fire she exhibited in Lost In Translation would have served her here--without any life behind her character's tiredness, Mary appears to drift from scene to scene and the strength the character needs to find in the script's crucial moments feels forced, like we are expected to believe something that isn't there. It's a disappointing turn that fans of the book will love (other audience members seemed to feel she got it just right), that casual filmgoers will not understand. The Other Boleyn Girl also loses points for its lack of coherence: too often it seems as though crucial scenes were left on the cutting room floor. The film's pace is fantastic, moving along at a brisk clip, but one feels that was only earned at the expense of clearer storytelling. Also, Chadwick's decision to avoid crowd scenes (and yes, it does seem to be a decision, placing the focus squarely on the trials of the court) is interesting, but ultimately misguided. There is plentiful talk concerning potential damage to Henry's kingdom--but the film gives us no reason to believe it exists. All these flaws aside, I really did enjoy myself. There's a lot to admire here: the gorgeous costumes, the strong performances, some moments of undeniable power and emotional punch, particularly in the film's third act, which goes from dark to pitch black with the flip of a switch and got my pulse pounding. I did care for these characters. I wished them better lives than their actions delivered them. But this is the problem with The Other Boleyn Girl: it sacrifices scope and context for emotional bloodletting though one cannot survive without the other. If the film's ambitions were able to reconcile themselves with its intimate focus, it might have emerged as something glorious, worthy of our admiration. Make no mistake: by credits close you will have been entertained, moved even. But I doubt that you will feel its pulse in the coming weeks, dwell on what you moved through. The Other Boleyn Girl is half a great movie; as its protagonists know, half of anything will never be enough. All in all, an okay start to 2008: proof that fine film acting is alive and well--storytelling not always so. Recommended for fans of Natalie Portman, the book, and trashy fun in a soap opera vein. For films that really linger -- you might look elsewhere. If you use this, you can call me Dingleberry. Cheers!
Oct. 10, 2007, 5:36 a.m. CST
Oct. 10, 2007, 7:07 a.m. CST
by Thomas Cromwell
It's Catherine of Aragon. Sorry to be picky.
Oct. 10, 2007, 8:01 a.m. CST
victorian? neat grasp of history there buddy. you were only out by about 400 years or so.<p> does robin hood turn up?
Oct. 10, 2007, 2:13 p.m. CST
by Bungion Boy
Glad that we saw a lot of the same things (oddly off screen scenes, Scarlett given nothing to do) but I'm also glad that you liked it more than me. I know there is an audience for this film out there. I know my sister will go nuts for it. I love the story that is told here and wanted to like the film more. Portman almost made it work for me but there were things with the direction and writing that just brought it down for me. Thanks for your insight.