Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by: David Hare
Produced by: Robert Fox, Scott Rudin
Runtime: 114 minutes
Chances of winning?
It’s interesting to think of how much chance this film had in winning the top prize. I’m sure it had its share of fans, but given that Miramax headed by the notorious producer-heavy campaigner Harvey Weinstein, I don’t think they have campaigned much for this film to win given that it also had Chicago (favorite/dark horse) and Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese still have that overdue label) which I think had better chances of winning. I guess it was fourth, considering the fact that they have the option of rewarding The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by awarding the top prize to the last part of the trilogy, which actually became next year’s winner.
The film is set in one day in the lives of three characters in three separate times.
The first story is about Virginia Woolf, the famed writer. She writes Mrs. Dalloway. She lives with her husband Leonard, a book publisher, in Richmond. That day, she starts to write the first pages of her new novel. Coinciding with that is the arrival of her sister Nessa together with her kids, discussing with her sister her fear of their servants.
The second story is about Laura Brown, a pregnant housewife of a war veteran. She reads Mrs. Dalloway. As her husband leaves for work, she and her son bakes a cake for her husband’s birthday, failing on their first attempt. Laura’s friend Kitty also stops by, informing her that she is going to have an operation in her uterus. As the unhappiness becomes unbearable, she checks in to a hotel, planning to commit suicide by drug overdose.
The third story is about Clarissa Vaughn, an editor-in-chief residing in New York. She is Mrs. Dalloway. She lives with another woman. That day, she prepares for a party as a celebration of her friend and former boyfriend Richard as he receives a literary award. She visits him in his apartment, and there, his outburst of dissatisfaction in his life affects her so much, it stays with her the whole day.
These stories are told in a criss-crossing manner, one story alternately following the other.
Surprisingly, the direction is subtle but very much in control of the film. The direction made the film credible. There are scenes that may have been delivered as heavy-handed or simply too silly to be believed, but I bought this whole thing of one day, separate time, separate lives story. It was able to reach the maximum potential power that the story has and pushes it more to add more insight to it. The screenplay may have some tendencies to throw some gimmicks here and there, but it still comes as natural, and that’s because of the skillful direction.
Like I have said, the screenplay has some occasional gimmicks, but whatever. It worked. It also tries to always add something new and artful to how the story was told, and it turned out to be what the film is most accomplished in – poetic, tragic, artistic, but natural story flow.
There aren’t as much fanciness in the cinematography compared to, let’s say, the editing, but it effectively divided, and yet, connects the different settings of the story. To make the comparison clearer: the Virginia section is flavored with earthy colors, the Laura section has the warmness of orange, and industrial colors like bluish grey are dominant in the Clarissa section of the film. The differences in shades are distinct yet it doesn’t come as very obvious, which impressed me even more.
Juicing out the most powerful ways to connect the three parallel stories is the editing. Sure, some scenes may have seemed too obviously connected, but I get past that, and I think it is just simply breathtaking. The opening credits, to be exact, is where the editing is showiest. It cuts quickly to different scenes featuring the different characters, and the story’s foundation is made in this part. If these scenes have failed, so will the rest of the movie. Luckily, those complicated scenes had the editing’s ingenuity of composing the scenes with visible craftsmanship that simply wows me. Of course, the work of the editing serves the film for the whole time with the same amount of tension, giving the film the specific kind of urgency that somewhat borders on the artistic side.
The music is simply one of the best ever. It boasts epic dramatic strength that really carries the scenes to a higher level of emotional effect. It is a dynamic illustration of the flow of the story – relaxed, yet amplified, almost art in itself. It’s one of those scores that you can listen outside the film, and while you listen to it, you also get carried away by your emotions. Magnificent. Simply magnificent.
The production design and the costume design are also noteworthy and useful in authenticating each era the characters are in.
Julianne Moore is mindblowing and devastating as Laura Brown. Out of the three stories, she carries the biggest amount of emotions because she is the one most torn and she has enough to work in. She paints a canvas of three-dimensional feminine melancholy that makes her somewhat pathetic character someone to actually care about.
Meryl Streep is also great as Clarissa Vaughn. She’s the least problematic of the three, and that’s simply because she can handle things, or can she? Streep raises those questions and doesn’t give us easy answers when she gets cornered by other characters in her scenes. In her more complicated scenes, she doesn’t really make an effort on trying to make us care for her, but she tries as hard as possible to show us her side – what’s happening to her, and how does her ex-boyfriend affect her so much. In these scenes she show how she has already mastered the craft of not just bringing characters to life, but bringing real human beings to us.
Nicole Kidman is haunting as Virginia Woolf. I actually want to recognize her more simply because she actually doesn’t have much to do. Yeah, she has the voice that always seem to struggle, the body language of immediate discomfort and loneliness, the infamous nose that she wears comfortably, some red eyes induced by suppressed dissatisfaction, suicidal tendencies, but beneath all of this, she still remains a ghostly character even in her segment. She vividly makes Virginia Woolf a shattered artist, and I believed in her. She may not have the most to do, but with this performance, I appreciated even more how generous, selfless, and chameleonic this great actress Nicole Kidman is.
The rest of the cast put forward strong performances to cap the list of the cast in the film – Stephen Dillane and Miranda Richardson as Virginia’s husband and sister, respectively, John C. Reilly as Laura’s husband, Allison Janney as Clarissa’s partner, and Ed Harris as the passionate, but dying writer who is Clarissa’s special friend.
The movie is not for anyone. Some may find it to be an artsy-fartsy sappy actress fest, and some may find it to be simply extremely beautiful film. I understand if you may hate it, but I don’t. It’s a fascinating study of three women who are trying to search for happiness. It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride, and I couldn’t get enough of this film. Give me this film anytime, and I will surely watch it.
For this, the movie gets:
So, agree or disagree?