Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)

I had a suspicion that the simply astounding poster for "Jane Eyre" would trump the film itself, even though the ticket taker at my theater spoke enthusiastically of its exciting properties, but I wasn't sure by exactly how much. Having endured the film's tedious 2 hour length, I now know the difference in quality between the two works is quite large indeed. This is a plodding film, made by a director who I admire for taking a chance but also see as terribly misguided all the same. One could not imagine that the person who made "Sin Nombre," a very abrasive film, could possibly assemble a movie this dull. Filmmakers such as Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola have done disarming things with similar material, so the fact that Cary Joji Fukunaga brings little to the table is disappointing. And what he does have, he squanders with incompetent, at times risible, direction.

I admit, I say this with limited familiarity with the original novel by Charlotte Brontë. I know from a friend that the story is told in a more sequential manner there than here, and from scanning the opening page of the book that it is told in first person. The film adaptation changes both of these elements slightly, neither for the better. Screenwriter Moira Buffini jumbles the chronology, which produced for me a sort of disconnect to the story. On this same note, I didn't relate too much with the title character, who's sealed off from the audience. I'm guessing that the Brontë version worked better by not separating you from her, and maybe by having people identify with her more this movie could have been improved a bit.

The film is definitely helped, though not completely remedied, by the performances from Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in the lead roles. Wasikowska, though looking uncomfortable at times (Fukunaga's fault perhaps?), plays the title character well as a quick-witted converser, traumatized by her past (involving Craig Roberts and Sally Hawkins playing against type) but wanting to move on and get some work. We learn, after seeing her taken in by missionary St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), that her first job came as the governess of the estate of Edward Fairfax Rochester. Fassbender, though terrific and scene-stealing as always, seems to be getting accustomed to the role of the middle-aged guy who preys on the young girl and pulls back to a pre-made facade after this and "Fish Tank." I think it's a good thing that he'll be working again with Steve McQueen, who did the exceptional "Hunger," on "Shame."

How I'd much rather be viewing and talking about that film than this one. No matter. The house that she goes to live in includes an unrelated Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) (whom, according to my friend, is toned down from the book and is seen her as an ally to Jane), as well as a young French girl named Adele (Romy Settbon Moore) whom Jane is teaching and a figure (to be revealed) who is producing noises and fires during the night. This is the backdrop for scenes where Rochester makes his affection for Jane clear and where he finds that even a man as high in stature as himself has to work sometimes for love. Their drawn-out courtship is frustrating as drama, disturbing when it becomes more prescient, and, at a later juncture, simply hilarious. This strikes me as a detrimental misconception on the part of the makers of the film, but who knows? Holy shit, maybe this is all some sort of crazy-ass stylization way ahead of our time!

There is beautiful nature shown in this film (from which a couple of nice compositions by "Sin Nombre" cinematographer Adriano Goldman are drawn), but it's underutilized, and viewers don't get to linger on it as they do in Campion's "Bright Star." A couple of man-made images linger: Eyre as a child lying on the floor cross-dissolved into a saucer of tea, as well as Eyre and Rochester lit by the fire. If Fukunaga had pushed more deeply on this front, and done without the old-fashioned score by "Atonement" composer Dario Marianelli, then possibly there would be more of the "reinvention" that the ads all professed this film to have. I mean, even though I was a little unsettled by these things, being inflicted with disquiet is far superior to being inflicted with boredom. C


Anonymous said...

The original novel certainly isn't boring. As I pointed out in my review, I wondered if more passion could have been brought to the role of Jane, but I do hope to see this film again, hopefully in the comfort of my room, where I won't be distracted by teenager blabbermouths. On a related note, I'll probably be seeing the 4 hour version of Jane Eyre at the end of next month, the proposal scene from which I compared with the same scene from this film in my Jane Eyre post.

Also, what did you think of the shaky cam at the beginning of the film? It annoyed the hell out of me.

Nick Duval said...

That's what I've heard. I think that a "reinvention" should make the material more interesting, but who am I to know?

I wasn't crazy about or entirely disliking of the shaky-cam, though it definitely made it even harder to savory the potentially glorious imagery of the film. It was another one of the things that Fukunaga did halfway. If he had gone all out with it, even if it had been annoying, it would have represented commitment to breaking ground. Which he didn't have.