Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Girl

Alfred Hitchcock is my all-time favorite director. He's a guy I've worshipped since I watched Psycho in the fifth grade, and ever since I've watched and re-watched most of his other fifty-three films. I own three of his DVD box sets and have read three biographies about his life (I'm about halfway through the nearly 1000 page tome Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light). From what I've been able to make over the years, he was the ultimate creative genius, a man who may have struggled talking to actors from time to time and had a crippling fear of authority figures, but who was a decent man, with a solid marriage and an undying love for cinema.

But then there was that period with Tippi Hedren. It's always the chapter in his biography books that reeks of Lifetime melodrama, and I'll never know what's true and what's not. Hitchcock is gone, most everyone who knew him is gone, and so most of the "truth" we're to gather is from Hedren herself, who claims Hitchcock was a pig who wanted to mold her into his own little sex toy, and when she denied his advances, he ruined her career and threw her out the back door like garbage. Fifty years had passed since this time period, and one has to admit that Hedren's recollections about this time period might be a little exaggerated and overblown. I believe that something inappropriate may have happened between them, that Hitchcock might have developed feelings for her over the course of these two films, but I've struggled believing all the gossip I've read, which is all mostly from Hedren's perspective.

And now there's The Girl, the first of two films this fall bringing Alfred Hitchcock back to the screen. I've been looking forward to this ever since I saw the first thirty-second teaser. I was less excited for the controversial sexual advances plot and more excited to see my favorite scenes from The Birds and Marnie recreated. What did I think of The Girl? I was entertained from beginning to end, and Toby Jones and especially Sienna Miller give credible performances. Overall, though, I found it a missed opportunity. The recreations themselves are done on a very low-key level, allowing no time to ever meet the other cast members on either movie. And the film treats Hitchcock like such a monster from the word go, I was surprised nobody involved in the production had little interest in giving him a more sympathetic side.

The performances make up for a lot of what's lacking in the underwritten script, and the one that comes off the best, surprising enough, is Sienna Miller, who's enjoyed a rather middling career. She's got the right look for this 60's blonde bombshell, but she is given numerous opportunities to reflect on the atrocities happening to her, and her slow turn from "puddy in Hitchcock's hands" to a woman fearing for her mental state, is handled well. Her journey, no matter how fictionalized it may or may not be, has a great pay-off in that final scene, when she's done, when she's free. Toby Jones, one of our finest character actors, does a fine version of Hitchcock, especially with his slumped shoulders and spot-on voice. However, I must admit I was a little distracted by Jones' extremely tiny physique, which looks in no way like Hitchcock's. Imelda Staunton plays Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville as appropriately mousy, but she's given nothing to do, besides one brief and unsettling scene where she asks a friend, "What does this girl have that the other ones didn't?"

We'll never truly know what happened between Hitchcock and Hedren, if he tried to make out with her in a car, if he deliberately tried to hurt her over the course of five days' filming, if he told her he loved her, if he slammed a door and said that from now on she will be available to him for sexual favors for whenever he asks for them. These rumors make for an interesting film, but was Hitchcock truly this broken at this late point of his career? After Marnie he went on to make five more films but nothing that reached the height of his previous work. One could argue that Hedren's dismissal of Hitchcock robbed him of his creative powers, and sent him into a downward spiral for the rest of his career. I'm not against The Girl because it touches on the most questionable time of Hitchcock's fifty-year career. I'm against it because it doesn't dig deep at all into Hitchcock's psyche, and instead shows these so-called "true" events on a surface level, with no real probing of what may have caused him to do these unthinkable acts. The movie runs a lean 90 minutes, with little time for reflection, and I think a two-hour film, with a somewhat larger budget, and under the hands of a more thoughtful director, would have made The Girl much better.

But while I was a little disappointed in The Girl, I'm still very much excited for the second Hitchcock film coming this November / December, simply titled Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren as Alma Reville. This theatrically-released film looks to have a more lighter touch, recreating all the memorable moments of what for many is Hitchcock's most memorable film, PsychoThe Girl is the teaser for what's going to hopefully be the truly great look at Hitchcock this fall season.

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